‘Welcome news’: Inquest into death of First Nations teen in B.C. group home set for fall

Click to play video: 'Family calls for public inquiry after Indigenous teen’s death in Abbotsford group home'
Family calls for public inquiry after Indigenous teen’s death in Abbotsford group home
The family the 17-year-old boy who was found dead in his Abbotsford group home is searching for answers into his death. The Representative for Children and Youth is reviewing the death, but the family says it wants a full public inquiry. Rumina Daya reports. – Oct 15, 2020

A coroner’s inquest has been scheduled in the death of a Cree youth who was reported missing from his Abbotsford, B.C., group home and found dead in the closet of his bedroom four days later.

Seventeen-year-old Traevon Desjarlais was found on Sept. 18, 2020 in the home operated by an organization under contract to Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society.

The BC Coroners Service determined an inquest into the circumstances around his death to be in the public interest, it said in a Thursday statement.

Read more: First Nations leaders outraged after B.C. teen found dead in group-home closet

When Desjarlais hadn’t been seen for a while, staff at the teen’s group home reportedly asked his mother if she’d heard from him. She said she hadn’t and they filed a missing person’s report on Sept. 14, 2020.

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Abbotsford police officers conducted extensive interviews in their search, according to a statement at the time. They said they pinged a cell phone Desjarlais was known to use, checked hospitals, and canvassed homeless camps, shelters and resources centres in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

He was found four days later. No cause of death was released, but police said no criminality was involved.

Click to play video: 'Outrage over death of Indigenous youth at group home'
Outrage over death of Indigenous youth at group home

The teen’s passing sparked grief and outrage from First Nations leaders across B.C., who said the system failed in its duty to protect him.

On Thursday, Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations called the inquest “welcome news.”

“Certainly when this happened there were many questions and concerns about the current state of child welfare,” he said. “We’re in the midst of changing that in terms of implementing Bill C-92, federally and provincially but … that’s not soon enough and especially in the case of Traevon.”

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Bill C-92 enshrined the right of Indigenous peoples to jurisdiction over their child and family services into Canadian law.

Read more: Family of First Nations teen found dead in group-home closet wants full public inquiry

After Desjarlais died, his family called for a full public inquiry. They described him as a young man “loved by everyone,” who was “aspiring to find out what the world had to offer” before his life was cut short.

“The mother has been very, very concerned about what happened leading up to the death of her son and what happened following the death of her son,” said Sarah Rauch, counsel for the teen’s mother, in October 2020.

“We’ve decided (an inquiry is) the only way that Samantha and the family and young Traevon can begin to get justice and understand what happened.”

Click to play video: 'Indigenous teen’s death prompts calls for change to B.C.’s child welfare system'
Indigenous teen’s death prompts calls for change to B.C.’s child welfare system

According to the BC Coroners Service statement, the inquest will attempt to determine the cause and circumstances of Desjarlais’ death, make recommendations to prevent such deaths in the future, and ensure public confidence that the circumstances will “not be overlooked, concealed or ignored.”

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Teegee said he hopes the inquest into Desjarlais’ death brings about positive change.

“Anything that comes out, good recommendations from this inquiry that would help and make things better for for children who are still in care or potentially will be in care, is welcome news,” he said.

The inquest will begin at the Burnaby Coroners’ Court on Nov. 28.

— With files from Amy Judd and The Canadian Press

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