Guardian of B.C. boy jolted by police Taser sues province
Vivian Luk, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 2:07PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 18, 2014 6:08PM EST
VANCOUVER - The guardian of a British Columbia boy who was jolted by a police Taser while in government care is suing the province for subjecting him to neglect and abuse that a court document says left him traumatized.
A civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges the boy, who is now 14, endured years of emotional and physical trauma while living in numerous foster homes and group homes across the province.
The court document says the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia is suing the Ministry of Children and Family Development for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. It alleges the ministry consistently put the boy in homes where he suffered emotional and physical abuse.
"The ministry repeatedly failed to provide a safe, stable and nurturing home for the plaintiff," it says.
"Rather than providing supports for foster parents, or pursuing the option of adoption, the ministry moved the child into a series of group home settings that could not provide security, stability or a long-term sustaining relationship for the plaintiff."
The province's director of child welfare, the two owners of a Dawson Creek-area foster home, and a social worker are also listed as defendants in the case.
The document says the Taser incident happened in April 2011, when the boy was 11 years old. About a week after he moved into his sixth group home, he escaped into a nearby trailer and then stabbed the group home manager with a steak knife.
RCMP were called, and when the boy stepped outside the trailer, police zapped him with a Taser. The document alleges that happened because the government put the boy through living arrangements that "created a situation of isolation and anxiety."
The Children's Ministry refused to comment on the lawsuit, saying the case is before the courts. It has three weeks to file a response.
The boy's traumatic childhood was documented in a scathing report last year by the province's children's watchdog. Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the teen's suffering could have been prevented if the government had invested in proper residential care.
Turpel-Lafond said Tuesday that she continues to follow the boy's progress, and she believes the lawsuit is a positive step.
"There's a lot of evidence (the boy) was harmed ... over the years," she said.
"Certainly, if there is a parent whose child went through this, I think they would be looking at the same issue. And when you have a vulnerable child, it's important we take very seriously that they have basic civil rights as does anyone else."
The court document says the boy, who now lives in an adolescent treatment centre, was born into an abusive and unsafe environment but that he was not removed from his parents' care until he was two years old.
After that, he was placed in foster care. At his second foster home, he endured three years of ill treatment.
The home, which is now closed, had a history of abuse, yet the government did not launch an investigation until 2004, when the boy was five years old, the court document alleges.
It says the child was put in cold showers for wetting his bed, fed hot sauce as punishment and shut in his room or the garage for long periods of time.
"The ministry failed to maintain meaningful contact with the child while he was in foster care and as a result, the ministry added to the plaintiff's trauma," the document says.
The boy was then placed in a variety of foster homes and care homes. With each placement, he became more aggressive and police had to be called at one point to take him to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, where he underwent a psychiatric assessment.
Even though a mental health specialist recommended a therapeutic family home setting for the boy, he was placed in a facility where he was confined in a so-called safe room whenever he was non-compliant, the court document says.
"The use of these rooms by the ministry, given the plaintiff's prior experience with being confined, has contributed further to his 're-traumatization,"' it said.
After Turpel-Lafond released her report, Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux said she was "heartbroken that the system failed this child," and that her ministry would implement Turpel-Lafond's recommendations.
They included creating a residential service program for children with complex needs, implementing senior management oversight for cases involving children with complex needs, developing a ministry unit to provide training and clinical support to those dealing with complex-needs children and youth and immediately stopping the use of isolation rooms to manage behaviour in care homes.
Turpel-Lafond said her recommendations have not yet been implemented. Last year, Cadieux said the government is building a new six-bed facility for children with intensive needs, but the youth advocate said she is not satisfied with the facility's location and model of care.
"With respect to building the proper type of therapeutic support for children who have intensive needs, British Columbia has not made progress on that front in the past year since this report was released, so this remains outstanding," she said.