British Columbia

Mother files human rights complaint following death of Indigenous teen in B.C. group home

The mother of a Cree teenager who died in a B.C. group home last year has filed a human rights complaint alleging discrimination by multiple public agencies and the police.

Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, 17, was found dead in his closet 4 days after he was reported missing

Traevon was a 17-year-old Cree youth who died while staying at a Rees Family Services group home, contracted out by Xyolhemeylh. (Submitted by Sarah Rauch)

The mother of a Cree teenager who died in a B.C. group home last year has filed a human rights complaint alleging discrimination by multiple public agencies and the police.

Samantha Chalifoux's complaint includes concerns about how she was treated after her son, 17-year-old Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, was found dead in an Abbotsford home on Sept. 14. It also touches on questions about how the investigations into his death have been handled, as well as allegations about a lack of transparency from government bodies.

Chalifoux's lawyer, Sarah Rauch, told CBC News that the complaint aims to highlight systemic issues surrounding the deaths of Indigenous children in care.

"She is very adamant that she doesn't want this to happen to any other child," Rauch said of Chalifoux.

"She's also very frustrated because she just has no information despite our many, many requests to have information shared with us."

The complaint names seven respondents, including the B.C. government, the representative for children and youth, Xyolhemeylh (also known as the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society), the BC Coroners Service, Rees Family Services, the Abbotsford Police Department and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has yet to make a decision about whether to hear the complaint and none of the named respondents have had an opportunity to file responses. None of the allegations it contains have been proven.

'Traveon died in very unusual circumstances'

Chalifoux has described her son as a caring and outgoing high school student who really wanted to start working so he could help support her.

At the time of his death, Chalifoux-Desjarlais had been living in a group home called Ware Resource, operated by Rees Family Services, a company contracted out by Xyolhemeylh, an agency delegated under the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

He had been there under a voluntary custody arrangement, an agreement between a parent and an agency to have a child in care temporarily. 

Samantha Chalifoux holds a photo of her son, Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, who died while in the care of Xyolhemeylh, the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Police found Chalifoux-Desjarlais dead in his bedroom closet four days after he was reported missing by staff at the home.

Chalifoux had been in regular contact with her son before he disappeared. She has said she'd text him every day and when she didn't hear from him for a couple of days she started to panic, calling his dad, friends and cousins.

"Traveon died in very unusual circumstances," Rauch said. "[His mother] had no indication that he was struggling or that his life was at risk."

The Abbotsford Police Department's Major Crime Unit concluded no criminality was suspected in the death.

Chalifoux told CBC last fall that there were red flags while her son was in the group home. She says he often texted saying he was hungry and was not being allowed food from group home staff, and he also complained he was not allowed fresh bedding.

The coroners service was called in to investigate Chalifoux-Desjarlais's death, and B.C.'s representative for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, has said she plans to investigate as well.

The family has called for a public inquiry into what happened.

With files from Yvette Brend, Angela Sterritt and Bethany Lindsay

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