By Tyrone Burke

Senator Landon Pearson has been advocating for children for decades—and has borne witness to improvements in access to education and material well-being for many children. But as she celebrates her 90th birthday in the midst of a global pandemic, there are major challenges that remain. Pearson views this historical moment as a critical juncture for the rights of children.

“There have been improvements related to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the obligations that countries have undertaken to deal with things like child labour and sexual exploitation, but we are in the middle of a pandemic now and that is throwing everything up for grabs,” says Pearson, who served in Canada’s Senate from 1994 to 2005.

“With the pandemic, child trafficking and violence against children have increased. Until now, we were moving forward on the aims and goals that we laid out in the World Summit on Children in 1990.”

Senator Landon Pearson

The Honourable Landon Pearson speaks at the 2015 International Day of the Girl

In these unique circumstances, Carleton’s Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights celebrated Pearson’s 90th birthday with a Zoom event on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

“Landon Pearson has helped foster a culture of respect for children and young people in Canada and around the world,” said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, President and Vice-Chancellor of Carelton University.

“We thank her for amplifying children’s voices and for honoring the diversity of their unique lived experiences. Carleton University is truly privileged to continue to be part of Landon’s legacy.

Designed by the Landon Pearson Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children's Rights at Carleton University, a two-day Shaking the Movers workshop in October 2018 promoted the right of children to participate as citizens in society.

Making the World’s Children Her Project

Current and former politicians sent their well wishes to Pearson via video and letters during the celebration, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister Paul Martin, retired Senator Roméo Dallaire, Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

“Landon is one of the best appointments that I ever made in my life,” said former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who attended the event via Zoom.

“You did a great job as a Senator, and specialized in an area that was neglected by everybody, at least at that moment. It was a privilege to be able to move on things like that, which were neglected and needed to be improved. You are a great advocate for the cause.”

Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae elaborated on Pearson’s impact.

“In the work I do now, we work with UN agencies that are struggling with the impact of COVID-19 on children, especially in the absence of school,” said Rae.

“Many of the roughly 60 million kids who are physically displaced around the world don’t have access to education right now. They’re not in school, and don’t have access to any programs, or anything except for the internet, which even then can be irregular. Your fundamental message is so important, and you have really have done an amazing job of making the world’s children your project and not losing sight of what’s happening to kids in Canada and everywhere else in the world.”

The Childen’s Senator

This milestone birthday is an opportunity to recognize Pearson’s dedication to advancing the rights of children and young people in Canada and globally. It is also the 30th anniversary of the World Summit for Children and Pearson shared recollections of attending that meeting in New York in 1990. She reflected on the challenges that existed then—and those we are facing now.

The event also served to launch the 2020 issue of the Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights produced by the Centre. Pearson was presented with a special gift—a book titled The Children’s Senator. Landon Pearson and a Lifetime of Advocacy, edited by Virginia Caputo, director of the Landon Pearson Centre and a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“Children’s rights are human rights, and when we work from the premise that adults and children live in a shared humanity, mutual respect enhances everyone’s lives,” says Caputo.

The countless closures and cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left many adults feeling powerless, but for children, this rapid swirl of changes can be even more discombobulating. Though their well-being has been an important factor in public health and education decision-making, children themselves have not been directly involved in these processes.

“The lives of children and young people are impacted by the pandemic as much as those of adults, and children also impact the decisions made to address the pandemic,” says Caputo.

“The Landon Pearson Centre has been involved in highlighting how children are experiencing the pandemic. These perspectives are valuable, yet they are frequently overlooked when adults make decisions ‘in the best interests’ of children.”

Landon Pearson Centre Celebrates Namesake’s 90th Birthday and Contributions to Children’s Rights in Canada

The Larger Picture of the Human Story

As Pearson begins her 10th decade of life, she has been reflecting on where this historical moment fits in the larger picture of the human story. In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has been all-encompassing, but the pandemic will end, and when it does, today’s children will be facing challenges that are monumental in scope.

“I have a great-grandson, and by the time he reaches my age, it will be the year 2110. I have been trying to think of what the world will be like then, and I have a fairly optimistic temperament, but I believe that we are at a fork in the road. One path is climate change, and the sixth extinction. The other is that human ingenuity figures out a way,” says Pearson.

And if we are able to chart a course to a more sustainable future, today’s children will be the ones who achieve it.

“This is a difficult period, but we will get through it. I’m optimistic because young people always make me feel that way. Children are driven by a sense of justice. I recall two girls standing up at the United Nations and saying: ‘We are not the problem, we are the solution.’ Children are not the ones who have messed this up, but they are the ones who will have solutions.”

Landon Pearson speaks in front of a large pull--up banner.

More Stories