Eighteen-year-old Alex Gervais was moved a total of 16 times within the B.C. foster system, and was still in government care when he fell to his death from a fourth-floor hotel room where he had been sent to live alone and unsupervised.
"This is a tragedy," said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth.
"He should not have been left alone in this hotel for this period of time, and the government, particularly the Ministry for Children and Family has a lot to answer for in this case."
Turpel-Lafond has launched an investigation, demanding to know why Gervais was not in the care of a foster family or group home. She said a review of his file indicates he had been placed in a hotel for the last three to five months.
"He had been through a lot of issues in recent months and may very well, as an act of desperation, taken his own life," she said.
Friend Dylan Pelley told CBC News that Gervais had become depressed living in the hotel, and was not getting the help he needed.
Gervais, who was a First Nations youth, had lived at the Super-8 Hotel in Abbotsford for months. He died the morning of Sept. 18.
Before that, he was in a group home that was shut down after the young people living there complained directly to Turpel-Lafond.
"The house was condemned, it was covered in mold," Turpel-Lafond told CBC. "There was no food, there were caregivers with criminal records who hadn't been screened, there was inappropriate, abusive language. The young people were really in a lot of distress."
Turpel-Lafond said senior ministry staff told her directly that none of the 33 displaced youth from several group homes would be moved to hotels.
"I'm devastated to hear of this death and extremely upset to learn that despite assurances to the contrary, they had in fact placed him in a hotel."
Placing foster children in hotels is supposed to be a temporary measure used in emergency circumstances only.
In an emailed statement, B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux wrote, "Hotels are – and should only be – used in rare occurrences and as briefly as possible... Staff have not reported to the provincial director on any other children or youth in care who are placed in hotels at this time."
Last December, Turpel-Lafond authored a report warning against the practice of leaving teens in hotels, calling it "a costly and non-therapeutic approach."
Police have ruled Gervais' death "not suspicious," but the BC Coroners Service is investigating.
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