Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs is among Indigenous leaders and organizations that have pushed for a thorough investigation into the death of a First Nations youth in an Abbotsford group home. (Black Press file photo)

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

Regional and national Indigenous organizations are calling for a thorough investigation into the death of a First Nations teen whose body was found in an Abbotsford group home four days after he was reported missing from there.

A press release issued Tuesday (Sept. 29) by a lawyer for the boy’s family and four Indigenous organizations stated that the youth was under the care of a delegated Aboriginal agency when he was found dead in his bedroom closet.

The release states that staff informed the boy’s mother on Sept. 14 that her child was missing and asked if she had heard from him. The mom said she hadn’t, and staff then filed a missing-person report.

ALSO READ: Alex Gervais died alone after years of instability, neglect: Child advocate report

The boy’s body was discovered on Sept. 18 in his bedroom. Abbotsford Police and the coroner deemed the death a suicide and determined there were no grounds for further investigation or an autopsy, despite repeated requests from the family for a full investigation, the press release states.

“While an autopsy has now been ordered, only after pressure from First Nations leadership in B.C. and nationally, serious concerns remain whether a thorough investigation into his death will be conducted,” the release says.

Const. Jody Thomas said the 17-year-old was reported missing to the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) on Sept. 15 by a care worker from the group home.

Thomas said the youth was familiar to police from previous missing-person reports.

“At the time of the Sept. 15th report, there was no indication that he was suicidal or using drugs or alcohol,” Thomas said.

She said the boy had no cellphone or money, and the care worker believe he was with relatives or at a friend’s house.

Thomas said several searches were conducted to find the boy, family and friends were interviewed, a cellphone used by the teen was pinged, and a bulletin was sent to all Lower Mainland police agencies.

She said police also canvassed homeless camps, shelters and resource centres in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and all hospitals were checked.

When the teen’s body was found, the APD’s major crime unit investigated and concluded that no criminal act had occurred, Thomas said.

She said the BC Coroners Service is continuing their investigation.

“The AbbyPD expresses its sincere condolences to the family and friends of this young man and to all others affected by his tragic death,” Thomas said.

Supporting the family with their calls for a thorough investigation are the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, BC Assembly of First Nations and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said the lives of First Nations children deserve the same attention and action as any other child.

“This young man was in the care of a system that was supposed to protect him, yet his body went unnoticed for several days. The decision of the police to not investigate thoroughly into the circumstances of his death is affirmation of the systemic racism that devalues the lives of Indigenous peoples,” she said.

Drew Lafond, president of the Indigenous Bar Association in Canada, calls on government agencies to treat the lives of Indigenous children as sacred.

“At minimum, this tragedy should be properly and thoroughly investigated independently. The decision by the assigned child coroner and Abbotsford Police to not undertake proper investigation is very concerning given the disturbing facts surrounding the death of this individual,” he said.

Terry Teegee, regional chief with the BC Assembly of First Nations, said the organizations “will be taking every measure to see justice for this young man’s life.”

ALSO READ: ‘I feel scared:’ Indigenous youth call for change after high-profile acquittals

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the death of a First Nations youth in Abbotsford while under government care.

Alex Gervais, 18, jumped to his death from a fourth-floor window of an Abbotsford hotel in September 2015 after not having been checked on by his caregiver in the 10 days prior.

Gervais’s death resulted in the 2017 report Alex’s Story: Broken Promises from B.C.’s representative for children and youth.

The report called for the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide proper support to youth in the foster system who couldn’t return to their families. It detailed how Gervais suffered from abuse, anxiety, depression and attachment issues.

In January of this year, the ministry said changes had been made to the foster system, including hiring more staff and social workers and talking with First Nations across the province in hopes of reducing the number of Indigenous youths in the system.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development, citing privacy laws, is not commenting on the most recent death in Abbotsford, including why it took four days to find the teen’s body.

Jennifer Charlesworth, representative for children and youth, said she can’t say much about the case at this point.

“I can say that we are aware of the situation and are reviewing it. I have been in contact with the First Nations Leadership Council and my office will proceed according to our mandate,” she said.

Charlesworth said their legislation requires waiting until a coroner’s investigation is complete or until one year after the death – whichever comes first – before they can begin any investigation.

“As with all tragic deaths of children and youth receiving government services, we know that there will be important learnings from this terrible situation,” she said.

RELATED: Province says foster system has been improved following 2015 suicide of Abbotsford teen



vhopes@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

First Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Alex Gervais died in September 2015 after jumping from a fourth-floor window at an Abbotsford hotel. His death sparked a report from B.C.’s child advocate that was critical of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Just Posted

The Regional District of Central Kootenay is no fan of the provincial STEP Code. File photo
RDCK board encouraged to ‘STEP’ forward with building code

RDCK directors have twice delayed adopting STEP Code standards

L-R, Kootenay mountain biking pioneer Mark Holt, Touchstones executive director Astrid Heyerdahl, and Deb MacKillop of the Nelson Cycling Club at the 2018 Touchstones exhibit. Photo: Louis Bockner
Touchstones Museum wins award for 2018 mountain bike exhibit

Exhibit responded to an unexplored yet vital part of Nelson’s identity

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

SD8 students can learn more about Métis culture, history, and language by participating in a variety of educational initiatives this month. Photo: Submitted
SD8 celebrates Métis Awareness Month

The district has a number of events planned in November

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

An elderly woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past an advertisement for a television series in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for more than half the year

Province has been under a state of emergency for 32 weeks – and counting

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Most Read