Holly Moore, Laurie Hamelin, Brittany Hobson
British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth said her office will be closely following the province’s Ministry of Children and Family Development’s (MCFD) response to over-represented Indigenous youth in care in the wake of a disturbing RCMP video.
“My first reaction was heartbreak and disgust but then I started having feelings of, ‘How could this happen, when did this happen and what’s the impact on the young person?’” Jennifer Charlesworth said in an interview with APTN News.
“This child was in the care of the ministry so the ministry is fundamentally responsible for that.”
APTN obtained a video of a 17-year-old Indigenous girl being interrogated for two and a half hours in 2012 after she reported a sexual assault to her foster parent.
The woman, now 24, has filed a lawsuit against the MCFD and two individual social workers saying she was punished for reporting the alleged assault. The suit alleges no “meaningful” investigation was done and that her alleged attacker was not interviewed by police.
Charlesworth said the fact that MCFD social workers were present during parts of the interview and did not intervene was disturbing.
MCFD social worker Siobhan Stynes is accused in a March 11, 2019 civil suit of characterizing the youth in the video as a habitual liar which led police to disbelieve her.
Read the first statement of claim
Former MCFD social worker Robert Riley Saunders is alleged to have siphoned off funds meant for vulnerable Indigenous clients.
Read the second statement of claim
Neither have responded to multiple requests for an interview.
Forty-five youth are now involved with Charlesworth’s office in relation to the alleged fraud at MCFD.
She said advocates are helping the youth on many levels to cope with the fallout from the alleged scheme. Some were left homeless, drug-addicted and even sexually exploited according to the statements of claim in multiple individual lawsuits and one class-action.
Charlesworth said she will be monitoring the ministry’s response to the video and it may become an impetus for providing compassionate early intervention for young Indigenous women.
She said her office is focusing on the number of Indigenous young women between the ages of 15 and 18 with multiple issues and concerns similar to those of the 17-year-old in the video.
“I’ve been very concerned about the well-being of a particular cohort of Indigenous young women,” she said. “So this is one child’s experience and it’s devastating but it’s actually not a unique experience.”
“It really speaks to a broader systemic and the ugly underbelly of ongoing racism and the impact of colonization.”