Warning: This article contains discussions of suicide that may not be suitable for all readers.
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Indigenous leaders are calling on the police in Abbotsford, B.C. to conduct a thorough investigation after a youth was found dead inside a group home and under the care of Delegated Aboriginal Agency.
“Despite the troubling circumstances surrounding the death and repeated requests from the family for a full investigation, the death was immediately deemed a suicide,” said a joint statement from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the First Nations Summit, the B.C. Assembly of First Nation (BCAFN), and the Indigenous Bar Association.
“This was determined without any interviews with the family or further investigation.”
The 17-year old boy was found deceased inside the Abbotsford home three days after he was reported missing to police.
The mother of the boy was informed on Sept. 14 that her son was missing,” according to police.
A staff member at the group home filed a missing persons report on Sept. 15.
Sgt. Judy Bird, a media spokesperson for the Abbotsford police says “at the time of the September 15th report, there was no indication that he was suicidal, or using drugs or alcohol.”
“Police were advised that he had no cell phone or money. The care worker believed it was likely he was with relatives or at a friend’s residence.”
Police said, “several officers completed multiple searches.”
The teenager was being housed in a group home through a consent custody agreement.
According to Legal Aid BC, consent custody agreements (also known as voluntary care agreements) are consensual arrangements for a child to be placed into government care for a limited time.
In B.C., 63 per cent of children and youth in government care are Indigenous, despite representing only nine per cent of the child and youth population.
“We expect a full and thorough investigation into this young man’s death, as would be expected for any other child or youth who dies under suspicious circumstances,” says Cheryl Casimer, political executive of the First Nations Summit.
An autopsy has been ordered following pressure from the family and First Nations leadership.
According to police, investigators with the Major Crimes unit concluded that no criminality is suspected at this time.
Allison Bond, deputy minister of the Ministry of Children and Family Development told IndigiNews through an email that “for legal reasons, the ministry cannot comment publicly on or even confirm ministry involvement with any individual or family.”
According to the release from Indigenous leaders, an autopsy has been ordered.
“The lives of First Nations children deserve the same attention and action as any other child,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the UBCIC. “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.”