British Columbia

Family of Indigenous teen who died in group home calls for public inquiry

Family and Indigenous leaders want answers to the death of Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, a 17-year-old Indigenous teen who died in his group home and was not found until four days after his death.

Children and youth representative has launched review into death of Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, 17

Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais was a 17-year old Cree youth who died while staying at a government run group home. A review looking into his death is now underway. (Submitted by Sarah Rauch)

The family of 17-year-old Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais is calling for a public inquiry to find out what happened in the days before and after his death at a group home in Abbotsford, B.C.

The body of the Cree youth was found in his bedroom closet in the home, four days after he had been reported missing.  

The group home that Chalifoux-Desjarlais died in was under the authority of Xyolhemeylh, also called the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society — an agency that is delegated under the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

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

"Words can't convey what happened for Traevon, for [his mother] Samantha, for the family, and really for all of us following this," said lawyer Sarah Rauch, who is pressing for a public inquiry on behalf of the family.

Rauch, who has represented other Indigenous parents who have accused the Ministry of Children and Family Development of systemic racism, said she has written letters asking for information from the police, the delegated agency and the ministry.

"Silence is not acceptable here," she said at a news conference Thursday.

Theresa Campiou is the great-grandmother of Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais. She called his death 'devastating.' (Zoom)

'We are pursuing everything'

Chalifoux-Desjarlais's mother's aunt, who by Cree custom is his great-grandmother, called his death a nightmare.

"A loss of any life is devastating," said Theresa Campiou at the news conference.

"We have trusted people both through the agency and the government to help us, to take care of this, to take care of our child, and that didn't happen, and we want to know why," Campiou said. 

Chalifoux-Desjarlais's mother Samantha Chalifoux kept in regular contact with him until he was reported missing by the agency on Sept. 14. His body was found in the closet four days later. 

Sarah Rauch is the lawyer for the family of Traevon Chalifoux-Desjarlais, and is pushing for an independent inquiry into his death.  (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Rauch says the public inquiry, largely a fact-finding mission to seek transparency around what institutions may have failed Chalifoux-Desjarlais, is just the first step.

"We are pursuing everything," Rauch said.

"A public inquiry is a way to get the information we need. It doesn't mean we are not interesting in holding people accountable — as others have said, this needs to charge and we will do whatever it takes," Rauch said. 

'This case is our top priority': children and youth representative

The BC Coroners Service is investigating to determine cause of death and any contributing factors. Indigenous leaders say an autopsy was ordered after First Nations leaders spoke out.

B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth says she is also conducting a review in tandem with the coroner's investigation. 

"Let's be really clear, this case is our top priority, because [Chalifoux-Desjarlais's death] is so tragic and it brings up so many questions as to what happened to this young man and what was happening in his residence," Charlesworth told the CBC.

Jennifer Charlesworth, British Columbia’s representative for children and youth, says she is proceeding with a review of the case looking into Chalifoux-Desjarlais's death in government care. (Office of the Representative for Children and Youth)

She said she has informed Chalifoux-Desjarlais's family that her office is now doing a comprehensive review of the case, and is getting access to the records while Chalifoux-Desjarlais was in care.

Charlesworth says she isn't able to comment on the role of the delegated agency or the Ministry of Children and Family Development in this case due to the current election campaign, but she can prepare for an investigation.

Deputy Minister of Children and Family Development Allison Bond said the death of any youth in care will prompt a case review, and that review would be provided to B.C.'s representative for children and youth, who has the discretion to pursue further review or an investigation.

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea?