The minister of Indigenous Services Canada says there will be a “thorough investigation” into a First Nations child welfare agency at the centre of an APTN story that found the agency was directly involved in the sexual abuse of children in its care.
And that investigation begins with a meeting scheduled for next week with board members of Weechi-it-te-win Family Services based in Fort Frances, Ont.
Government officials from Ontario will also be at the meeting.
“As the agency operates under provincial delegation and oversight, Indigenous Services Canada is working with Ontario to determine next steps in addressing this very serious situation,” said the statement from Alison Murphy on behalf of Minister Patty Hajdu at ISC.
“ISC has spoken with provincial officials and will be joining a meeting they have called with the agency’s Board of Directors.”
Hadju told reporters on Tuesday she was calling for an investigation after APTN Investigates published a story detailing decades of sex abuse on Oct. 14.
From workers sexually abusing children to caregivers being charged for doing it, the history of Weechi-it-te-win Family Services is steeped in stories of abuse going back at least 27 years.
And if there was any purported screening, you wouldn’t know it.
The APTN investigation revealed the agency has hired at least two workers and one caregiver who were previously convicted of sex crimes.
One of them still does work for Weechi to this day as an elder and in the past, worked with children in the agency’s treatment programs where allegations of sexual abuse were made against him.
APTN has confirmed several cases of background checks not being done on caregiver homes where kids were placed and a former child in care is suing Weechi for the alleged sexual abuse she suffered as a result.
Weechi has a history of not following government-mandated guidelines that are supposed to protect children, as previously reported by APTN, and can scramble to “back-date” documents in order to pass government inspections for its annual licence renewal.
APTN has also previously confirmed incidents where workers didn’t check on children in homes for months. In one case, this type of neglect in part led to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl who was also sexually abused.
And this isn’t a thing of the past.
Allegations of sexual abuse continue to this day.
A caregiver was charged less than two months ago with nine sex crimes against a child, including sexual interference. His wife was employed by Weechi at the time of her husband’s arrest.
None of this is readily available to the public unless they know where to look and even then it can be extremely difficult to find the information if it even exists.
APTN was able to piece this story together through interviews, court documents and searching newspaper archives for evidence to confirm the oral history spoken within the communities.
In speaking to dozens of local people in the affected communities, even more stories of abuse surfaced. But those complaints were not reported or documented.
“Weechi needs to be fully investigated immediately,” one former worker told APTN.
Since the story broke, there have been whispers about such a meeting being called – but Ontario’s ministry of children, community and social services, the department responsible for Weechi, has not responded to multiple requests for comment regarding the story since it broke.
Neither has Greg Rickford, Ontario’s minister of Indigenous affairs and whose riding the abuse is taking place.
Weechi operates under a license issued by the Ontario government.
But while it’s mandated by the province, it has historically been funded indirectly from ISC for up to 93 per cent of expenses and in recent years has been directly funding services at the agency in the millions of dollars.
Weechi operates in nine communities on Treaty 3 territory.
Multiple calls to Treaty 3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanagh and several of his advisors have gone unanswered.
Weechi-it-te-win executive director Laurie Rose has not responded to requests for interviews regarding this story.