An Ontario inquest examining the death of a teenager from Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation whose body was found near a group home in Hamilton has begun.
The inquest has heard Devon Freeman was 16 when he was reported missing from the Lynwood Charlton Centre in the Flamborough area of Hamilton in October 2017.
His body was found near the home more than six months later.
Details about Freeman’s mental health and behavioral challenges are documented in a Dec. 5, 2019 letter to Karen Schiff of the Regional Supervising Coroner’s Office from lawyers Sarah Clarke and Justin Safayeni, who are representing Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and Pamela Freeman, Devon’s grandmother and who lobbied for the inquest.
They based their request on “lack of communication and the multiple system failures” between organizations involved in Devon’s care that were “almost unimaginable,” adding “it is the overarching and consistent theme reflected at nearly every stage of the tragic circumstances leading to and surrounding Devon’s death.”
At the inquest Monday morning, Pamela Freeman held back tears this morning as she told the inquest about her grandson, recalling his love for cars and trucks and his interest in space and the planets.
Freeman, who is a citizen of the Chippewas of Georgina Island, said her grandson’s death has left her grappling with “sorrow and pain,” as well as nightmares.
The inquest will explore the circumstances surrounding Devon Freeman’s death, and systemic issues that contributed to his death, including public policy and legal issues related to Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system.
“There was really no communication between the group home and the First Nation and the police and the First Nation,” Clarke said outside the Georgina Island Community Centre where the first day of the inquest was held. “There was some communication between children’s aid and the First Nation but more in a notification manner and not in communication for the purpose of helping or planning or supporting.
“And I think it’s really critical that First Nations be a part of planning when they’re dealing with children in the system because they have insight and information that mainstream organizations don’t have.”
Freeman never lived on Georgina Island but Shannon Crate, the acting representative for child welfare on the island, said the community felt it important the inquest open there.
“Although Devon lived in Hamilton, he belongs to this First Nation,” she said. “He’s a member of this community. He always wanted to come back here. His grandmother was raised here and when something like this happens to anyone of our members in this First Nation it impacts all of us. It’s a tragedy for all of us.”
The remainder of the inquest will be held in Hamilton.
With files from the Canadian Press