B.C’s minister of family and child development is facing calls for her immediate resignation from senior First Nations leaders following horrific abuses that led to the death of an 11-year-old foster child.
The First Nations Leadership Council issued a statement Monday (June 26) demanding the immediate resignation of Mitzi Dean as part of a complete overhaul of the foster care system.
The First Nations Leadership Council consists of the political executives of the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. The forum unites the most powerful First Nations’ voices in B.C., including UBCIC’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, whose wife Joan will join the NDP caucus as the new MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant following Saturday’s two by-elections.
The demand for Dean’s resignation comes after a Chilliwack court sentenced two former foster parents to concurrent prison sentences of 10 years for manslaughter and six years for aggravated assault in connection with the death of an 11-year-old boy under their care. The boy’s sister also suffered abuse by the man and the woman, who cannot be named.
In addition to her resignation, political executive for the First Nations Summit Cheryl Casimer said that the province “must commit to eradicating the abuse and mistreatment of First Nations children in care by supporting First Nations’ jurisdiction of First Nations children.”
The court heard during sentencing that Dean’s ministry did not any pursue appointments or home visits with the boy after July 27, 2020, who suffered a traumatic brain injury on Feb. 25, 2021, after his foster mother had repeatedly attacked him. Doctors took him off life support on March 1.
Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the BC Assembly of First Nations said this and other tragedies result from negligence and a lack of systemic oversight by the ministry.
“Case after case, the Province of British Columbia offers condolences and promises to ensure it won’t happen again,” Teegee said. “Clearly, this is not enough…I urge Minister Dean to recognize this and resign immediately.”
Phillip said the case made him nauseous. “This was not an isolated incident and it was entirely preventable,” he said, adding that the ministry has not demonstrated any sincere steps toward accountability and prevention at a broader level.
“Everything about this case — the placement of children into a foster home where the foster parents asked for support they did not receive, the unbearably lengthy period of abuse, and the complete lack of oversight from ministry employees and officials — leads to a deep concern about MCFD’s ability to effectively provide ‘child protection’ services.”
Dean, who was first elected as MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin in 2017 and assumed her current office in November 2020, has long been the object of criticism from children’s advocates and First Nations.
Recent cases that raised additional questions included a report from B.C.’s representative for children and youth Jennifer Charlesworth, whose received over 500 reports of kids missing from government care, who were critically injured or were at-risk of serious harm. The cases involved 198 individual children with four having died during the nine-month period of the report from May to December 2022. More than half of the children involved were either First Nations or Metis and three of the four children who died were First Nations.
MCFD said last week that it had done a thorough review of the case, while acknowleding that the system had failed the children.
Dean said in a statement last week that the children’s experiences had horrified her.
“I extend our deepest apologies and condolences to the family, friends and communities that have been impacted by this tragedy,” she said. “Children must always be safe and supported by the adults in their lives and it is clear that these children were failed at every level. The provincial director of child welfare has assured me that changes have been fully implemented at the local office involved to ensure that ministry policies and practice for the protection of children are being followed and we will take all steps to prevent such a tragedy happening again.”
She struck a similar tone in a statement issued Monday.
“I am heartbroken at what these children endured and I extend our deepest apologies and condolences to the family, friends and communities that have been impacted by this tragedy, including Indigenous Peoples across the province who have experienced and continue to experience the trauma of a broken child-welfare system,” she said.
She added that her ministry fully supports an investigation by Charlesworth’s office.
“The ministry will support and participate in all efforts to bring the facts to light and will assist the representative in any way that she deems necessary, ” Dean said. “We will address all recommendations to improve the safety of children and youth in care.”
Premier David Eby backed up Dean during an unrelated event Monday morning.
“(Dean) has taken on significant reform work to make sure that every kid in the province gets the care that they deserve,” he said. “She has my confidence and she and I obviously have some serious work to do with First Nations leadership, with First Nations communities, to provide them with the information that they need to have that we are heading in the right direction on these files, given the disproportinate impact on Indigenous communities of our child welfare system, historically and currently.”
When asked about the source of the resignation call, Eby described the letter as a “call to re-double” efforts to work with First Nations leadership to speed up the process that will see Indigenous communities gain the authority and resources to support their own children.
“We need a high level of trust to get it done, so Minister Dean and I will be working closely with (First Nations) leadership to restore that trust. “
-with files from Eric Welsh