Tragic First Nations death leads to call for federal help

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond from the province’s Representative for Children and Youth. (24 HOURS FILE PHOTO)

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond from the province’s Representative for Children and Youth. (24 HOURS FILE PHOTO)

Ottawa isn’t pulling its weight when it comes to protecting children, according to the B.C. government following the release of a scathing review by the province’s child welfare watchdog.

In her report Lost in the Shadows, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, representative for Children and Youth, focuses on the death of a 14-year-old First Nations girl who hanged herself in her grandparents’ yard on a reservation in 2011.

The report detailed how the girl was let down by government services and professionals meant to protect her and recommends measures to prevent such tragedies in future.

“The story of this girl’s short life is painful to learn,” said Turpel-Lafond in the report. “The representative appreciates that many British Columbians will find it unbelievable that what happened to her could be allowed to occur in our province.”

While the B.C. government accepts the recommendations made in the report, it pointed out it needs more help from First Nations and, specifically, from the federal government.

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said Thursday she had already approached Ottawa on the issue.

“The circumstances that led to this tragedy were not because of any one person’s failure, but in fact because of the system failure,” she said. “We need and encourage the federal government, given their responsibility for funding on reserve services, to direct more specific attention to the child welfare area.”

Turpel-Lafond’s report said the girl was born into a chaotic environment and suffered emotional, physical and likely sexual abuse. Because she lived on a reserve she faced greater barriers to services than those of a child living off reserve.

Much of the abuse the girl suffered was at the hands of her mentally ill mother who said voices told her to hurt the girl.

Despite medical professionals noting concerns about the mother living with two children, the MCFD was never notified.

Cadieux said that communication breakdown would also be addressed.



Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions