B.C. government slammed in report on death of troubled aboriginal teen

A used crack pipe is pictured in Vancouver
A used crack pipe is pictured in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, British Columbia February 11, 2014.REUTERS/Ben Nelms

The tragic death of an aboriginal teenager in Vancouver, B.C. has spurred the provincial government to seek solutions about how to handle many of its troubled youth – even though a recently released report slammed the government and accused them of turning a blind eye to the teen’s plight.

The teen in question, Paige, lived in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, a troubled spot, when she died of a drug overdose.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth in B.C., wrote a scathing report in which she accused the B.C. government of taking a “brutal and cruel approach” to Paige’s case.

In the report: Paige’s Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded, Turpel-Lafond explained that despite suffering abuse under a mother that was an alcoholic, unstable and violent – and where drug use was out in the open - the Ministry of Children and Family Development kept sending Paige back to her mother, and this despite 30 child-protection reports noting the terrible conditions at home.

The B.C.’s government’s response to the report was to put out a written plan promising action on helping high-risk teens, especially in Downtown Eastside.

Another solution the government has come up with is to look at reviving the ‘secure care’ youth detainment program. Back in 2001, the Secure Care Act was supposed to be passed, but was abandoned after a change in government.

The secure care program would see youth under the age of 18, forced into treatment and detoxification programs if they are considered “high-risk” by the government.

Yet, what is really at the heart of the problem with highly troubled youth? Is it the fact many of them are addicts or is it the fact that, as in the case of Paige, the root problems are not being acknowledged?

On the other hand, what if the secure care youth program could actually make a difference in the life of the addicted youths?

What if it not only got them off drugs and the streets, but also gave them schooling and employment and away from unstable, abusive homes?

It has to be asked whether that is even in B.C’s “secure care” plan. Currently, the plan itself is a puzzle, which concerns civil rights advocates and rightly so.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Patterson told The Globe and Mail: “We have concerns about any proposals….that go beyond the immediate protection of a minor from any sort of harm – or that go beyond a short-term assessment geared toward getting someone into voluntary treatment.”

Getting them into treatment under the program - as in a similar program in Saskatchewan called the Youth Drug Detoxification and Stabilization Act - would likely involve getting a warrant from a judge, and in essence they would be arrested and be taken to the facility – which is probably a traumatic event in itself.

Do we really want to go that far in forcing youth into treatment? Then, once again, what if the program works?

One major issue is that secure care programs treat youths for a few days, with a few days extension possible and then let them go …but go where?

The issue is not only that short-term stints in rehab will not work, but that many kids who come from broken homes need a guiding hand to get on their feet. If you let them go back, they will end up in the same predicament they were before.

The objective should be not based on a short-term plan, but a long-term plan that goes beyond detox and treatment.

Moreover, they will need housing while they’re recovering and getting schooling or employment and that is something the government should be looking into as well.

In short, the government should not just look at treatment for youths, but should help them find the means to help themselves.

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