How one First Nation youth’s life almost fell apart inside a Winnipeg motel room

(File Photo)

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
For the first 15 years of his life this Manitoba First Nation youth never a had a run-in with the law – that is until he became a ward of the province and they put him in a Winnipeg motel room with a stranger.

That stranger was a Child and Family Services case worker whom he had never met and that case worker had no authority over the child.

The boy, who cannot be named under Manitoba’s child protection laws, began to run wild – drinking and doing drugs.

Then he broke the law.

This all happened within a week.

The boy was put in the motel by CFS under emergency circumstances in June 2014 after his foster care placement had broken down.

He was placed in foster care in February 2014 after his mom was found unfit because of addictions.

On June 30, he was not in his motel room.

According to court records, he was drunk and high on street drugs with another youth he met at the motel.

The pair were going from car-to-car looking for valuables until motel security guards grabbed them, put them in a motel room and called police.

There, he threatened the security guards with plastic spoons and later escaped with the other youth through a broken bathroom window.

Both were arrested across the road at another motel.

Police took him to the MacDonald Youth Services emergency shelter who released him the next day with conditions to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Police spotted him high on pills later that day.

He was taken the Manitoba Youth Centre, a jail, and charged with the previous night’s theft, threat, breaking the window and failing to comply with the his undertaking.

Two days later he was released with more conditions, including a curfew.

It’s not clear if he was put back in a motel room but he was found Oct. 20  “in a state of intoxication in the middle of the night.”

He was charged again with failure to comply.

By Feb. 5 of this year he was in back in the original foster care home, but one night didn’t complying with his curfew. He was at his girlfriend’s and told his foster parent, who called police.

He was held in custody for four days and charged with another failure to comply – his sixth criminal charge.

In April, he plead guilty to all charges.

“Clearly, (he) was a youth in crisis,” said Justice Rocky Pollack in his ruling on May 28. “He had a parent incapable of controlling him and the response of CFS was to keep him in a motel room with a stranger whose order did not include any parenting.”

Pollack also said when he finally got a lawyer last September she tried to contact him but his file did not have an address.

She made inquiries to CFS to find her client but found there was no worker assigned to him.

“His file was in a state of uncertainty,” said Pollack, adding his former worker had moved to a head office position and his file was never reassigned. “Judges who preside frequently in Youth Court know that this is not an unheard situation.”

His court case was remanded six times and another six times after a Legal Aid lawyer was appointed.

Manitoba has about 10,000 children in care. The vast majority are Aboriginal children. A chronic shortage of foster-care spaces has forced the province to use hotels to house children – something that has been criticized for more than a decade.

Manitoba’s family services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross tearfully promised to end the practice after a young girl was seriously assaulted in March by June 1. Both the victim, and the youth charged in the assault, were in the care of CFS at a downtown Winnipeg hotel.

Irvin-Ross had already promised in November to phase out the use of hotels after 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was killed after running away from one.

The government is creating new emergency foster-home spots and reducing its reliance on outside contract workers over two years. It is also focusing more on preventative efforts that support families before children are taken into care, Irvin-Ross said. The province will be working closely with agencies to ensure hotels aren’t needed, and won’t hesitate to act if the directive isn’t followed, she said.

However, the June 1 deadline couldn’t be met for rural hotel placements. The province said that was going to take more time.

Now 16, the youth is doing well in foster care.

He’s a full-time Grade 11 student and volunteers in Winnipeg youth programs, goes to church and is involved in extra-curricular athletics.

Pollack gave the youth an absolute discharge for the theft, threats and mischief convictions.

However, for breaching his curfew conditions he gave the youth a conditional discharge that comes with a probation in the community for a year and remain on his record for additional two years.

He was also order to complete community service.

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– with files from the Canadian Press



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