Review of Alex Gervais's death tainted, family says
Aunt says ministry officials reviewing death also to blame for closing teen's group home
The family of 18-year-old Alex Decarie-Gervais, who fell or jumped from of a hotel window September 18 while in government care, says an internal review into his death is tainted because the officials they blame for his death are investigating themselves.
"It's a conflict of interest," said Line Decarie, who wrote the province a letter complaining that officials at the Ministry of Children and Family Development should not be reviewing their own actions.
"I think we should be looking back at the decisions of why they closed the homes ... you can't have someone investigating their own decisions, you need someone from the outside," said Decarie who hopes the provincial government agrees to fund an independent inquiry into the deaths of several teens in care.
Decarie says, after speaking with her nephew's caregivers and friends, she is convinced the ministry made a hasty mistake when it closed Gervais's group home in July, leaving the teen without a home and placing him in a Super 8 motel in Abbotsford where he languished, living alone for nearly three months.
Family questions closure of group home
It was one of 23 homes run by A Community Vision, closed by the Director of Child Welfare after problems were found at some of the homes, but not Gervais's.
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"I was told he was doing excellent in his group home, the structure, he was well fed, it was where he needed to be at that point ... why did they move a child who has issues ... and put them up in a hotel room?" asked Decarie in an interview from Ottawa.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development confirmed that the director of child welfare has launched a case review into Alex Gervais's death that must be completed by May.
It did not, however, respond to concerns about conflict of interest raised by people close to Gervais.
The province has said it closed all 23 group homes out of concern for the safety of the children and that none of the care plans included hotels.
Two former foster brothers who lived with Gervais and two former caregivers confirm to CBC News there were no complaints at the group home and it was never investigated.
"We provided Alex with a structured, caring atmosphere," wrote Jordan Smit Fougere who worked weekends at the specialized home for teens with complex issues.
"Alex would refer to me as his foster mother and I cared for him very much."
Moving Gervais to motel 'beyond inhumane'
"I know without a doubt the choice to move Alex into a hotel room alone led to his demise. His very life depended on consistent support, care and guidance."
"How an individual with Alex's needs ends up in a hotel room alone is beyond inhumane," said Fougere.
Stephan Fromow and Dallas Ranville lived with Gervais at the same group home and say he was doing well before the move to a hotel.
They say he was a funny, social boy who hated being alone.
Days before his death, Gervais complained of not having any food and of social workers ignoring him, in text messages to a friend.
"I tell the social workers to help me and they do nothing .... I'm not doing very good," texted Gervais, nine days before his death.
Child advocate also raises questions
"An internal review is going to be far from adequate and I want to commence that fulsome investigation immediately," said B.C. children's watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who has asked the legislative finance committee for $1.7 million to investigate Gervais's death and the deaths of three other teens in care.
A decision is expected in the February provincial budget.
She also wants to investigate why proper placements for the teens were not in place before the group homes were closed.
"They had to close some of those and I appreciated that they needed to but what was the plan for the young people?" she said.
"I was assured that no young people be in a hotel and we need to investigate how that happened."
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the First Nations Health Council is doubtful the province will fund an independent investigation, especially after a consultant's report released Monday recommended the province phase out the child representative's investigative powers.
"Do you see Christy Clark and Mike De Jong making more money available to the representative to carry on with the investigations into the deaths of four children? I don't think so. This is a cover-up of major proportions and the public has to speak up."
CBC News Investigates
with files from Enza Uda