First Nations leaders in B.C. call on child and family minister to resign

Ministry did not check on children, who were beaten and starved while in care.

emergency supports

Minister Mitzi Dean/ APTN archives

Warning: story has disturbing details of child abuse, neglect and death

First Nations leaders in B.C. are calling on Mitzi Dean, child and family development minister to resign for what they said is “an inadequate approach and ongoing lack of accountability.”

This call to resign is in response to the sentencing of two former foster parents in a Chilliwack provincial court to 10 years in prison for manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Grand Chief Stewart Philip from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) said in a press release that “the complete lack of oversight from Ministry employees and officials – leads to a deep concern about the [Ministry of Child and Family Development’s] ability to effectively provide ‘child protection’ services.

“I call on Minister Dean to acknowledge the grinding severity of this failure by resigning immediately.”

Neither the foster parents nor the children can be named under a publication ban. Both the foster parents and the children are Indigenous. According to the release from the UBCIC, the offences took place in Lake Errock between 2020 and 2021.

An eleven-year-old boy died in their care, and the 8-year-old had “multiple abrasions and bruises all over her body,” according to court documents.

Court documents further said “the abuse was deliberate and protracted and at times involved the use of weapons, restraints and the infliction of severe physical and mental pain and suffering.”

A Gladue report for the male foster parent, called “Mr. F” sets out that he is “a status member of the [omitted for publication] First Nation.”

The report sets out a history of “violent behaviour in the family, with both parents suffering from alcohol addiction and his father violently beating his mother,” according to court documents.

A Gladue report for the female foster parent, called Ms. T said she “had a difficult childhood. She was raised in a highly dysfunctional and unstable atmosphere with physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. She was raised by her mother who suffered from alcoholism, fibromyalgia and mental health issues,” according to court documents.

The court heard that the Ministry of Family and Child Development did not have any virtual or in-person appointments or home visits with the boy after July 27, 2020.

“These are issues that need to be addressed,” the judge said.

Children locked in the closet

The children were made “to wear diapers and would lock them in a closet. They were not fed with the other children and food was withheld from them as punishment [the children] were forced to eat faeces from their diapers, as well as their own vomit and urine,” according to the courts.

Much of the abuse was captured in CCTV cameras in the home.

The parents can be seen laughing while they abuse the children, the court document said.

On Feb. 25, 2021, the boy suffered a traumatic brain injury after being repeatedly attacked by his foster mother. He would be taken off life support March 1.

Judge La Prairie said he watched 400 hours of the video footage submitted as evidence.

“To state that they are disturbing, shocking and horrific is an understatement,” the judge said. “The children are seen in emaciated states, forced to do jumping jacks while naked or wearing diapers in the home while Ms. T. and Mr. F. sit on the couch on their phones. The level of violence depicted in the videos is incomprehensible.”

Representative for children and youth investigating

Jennifer Charlesworth. Photo: APTN archives

Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth announced Monday that her office will conduct a full investigation into the circumstances that led to the abuse and death of one of the children.

“This is an unbelievably tragic story, and one that has frankly brought me to my knees as I try to imagine what this child – and their siblings – experienced,” Charlesworth said.

“In 46 years of practice in helping children and youth, this is one of the most egregious situations I have ever seen. I will do everything in my power as Representative to ensure that we learn what happened and – most significantly – what needs to be done to ensure that the system is transformed so that this does not happen to any child, anywhere in this province, again.”

Charlesworth also said her office is also advocating for the other children who have been impacted by this violence and monitoring the care that they are receiving.

Minister ignores calls to resign  

Dean issued a statement in response to APTN’s questions about whether she will step down. That specific question went unanswered.

“I am heartbroken at what these children endured and I extend our deepest apologies and condolences to the family, friends and communities that have been impacted by this tragedy, including Indigenous Peoples across the province who have experienced and continue to experience the trauma of a broken child-welfare system.

“My ministry is fully supportive of the representative for children and youth’s investigation. The ministry will support and participate in all efforts to bring the facts to light and will assist the representative in any way that she deems necessary. We will address all recommendations to improve the safety of children and youth in care,” said a statement from Minister Dean’s office.

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