The case of a 17-year-old First Nations youth in care who was found dead in his bedroom closet at an Abbotsford, B.C., group home days after he was reported missing has First Nations organizations demanding a thorough investigation.
The disturbing details are outlined in a joint press release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.
According to the release, the young man was under the care of a delegated Aboriginal agency through a consent agreement when he was found dead Sept. 18.
The release says his body had been there for at least four days.
It goes on to say that agency staff informed his mother of his disappearance on Sept. 14. She confirmed there had been no communication from her son, and the agency filed a missing person’s report the following day.
According to the release, after his body was found, “Abbotsford police and the child coroner assigned to the case quickly determined there were no grounds for further investigation or an autopsy, leading the family to reach out directly for support from First Nations leadership in seeking answers and justice.”
First Nations leaders demand ‘full accountability’
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Kukpi7 Judy Wilson said the lives of First Nations children deserve the same attention and action as any other child.
“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,” said Wilson.
“We demand immediate action and full accountability by the Abbotsford Police Department and the province of B.C.,” said Terry Teegee, B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief.
The BC Coroners Service is investigating to determine cause of death and any contributing factors. According to the release by the First Nations organizations, an autopsy was ordered after First Nations leaders spoke out.
The deputy minister of Children and Family Development, Allison Bond, said the death of any youth in care will prompt a case review, and that review would be provided to B.C. ‘s representative for children and youth, who has the discretion to pursue further review or an investigation.
That investigation would occur after the coroner’s investigation is complete or within a year of the death, whichever comes first, said Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, in a statement.
She said she was aware of the teen’s death and is reviewing the case.
“I have been in contact with the First Nations Leadership Council, and my office will proceed according to our mandate,” Charlesworth said.
“As with all tragic deaths of children and youth receiving government services, we know that there will be important learnings from this terrible situation.”
Reported missing Sept. 15
The Abbotsford Police Department said the youth was reported missing by a group-home care worker on Sept. 15, and the department’s missing person investigator was assigned to the case.
Police said he was known to police from previous missing persons reports.
“There was no indication that he was suicidal or using drugs or alcohol. Police were advised that he had no cellphone or money,” said Const. Jody Thomas.
“The care worker believed it was likely he was with relatives or at a friend’s residence.”
Thomas said officers interviewed friends and family members, issued a missing persons bulletin and searched day and night for the youth.
She says the Abbotsford police major crime unit took over the investigation after the teen was found.
Detectives concluded that no criminality was suspected in the death.
“The AbbyPD expresses its sincere condolences to the family and friends of this young man and to all others affected by his tragic death,” said Thomas.
B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development said because of legal reasons, it could not comment on the youth’s death.