Teen's death leaves Minister Stephanie Cadieux 'angry' policy ignored
Despite ministry directive, 18-year-old Alex Gervais was living in a hotel at the time of his death
B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said she's "angry" policy was apparently ignored in the death of an 18-year-old who was living in a hotel when he fell to his death last week.
Alex Gervais had been living at the Super-8 Hotel in Abbotsford alone and unsupervised for months before he fell from a fourth-floor window. He was still in government care when he died.
But Cadieux says her ministry's provincial director needs to personally approve housing youths in hotels. And to the best of her knowledge, that was not done in Gervais' case.
"I am beyond deeply concerned," Cadieux told the CBC's The Early Edition.
"I'm angry, frankly."
Gervais' death follows a damning report last spring from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond called on the government to take immediate steps to ensure children in ministry care are not being housed in single-room occupancy hotels.
Turpel-Lafond says the ministry has "a lot to answer for" in Gervais' case.
The teen moved a total of 16 times within the foster care system before landing in the hotel where he died. Previous to living in the hotel, he was in a group home.
"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."
Cadieux said ministry policy clearly states that children and youth are to be placed in "appropriate resources that suit their individual needs" — and that rarely includes hotels.
She said both she and the provincial director were under the impression that no youths were being housed in hotels when Gervais died.
"She's concerned. I'm concerned, because I was assured the same thing," Cadieux said.
She pointed the finger at ministry staff: "The decisions that are made on the ground for individual children are made by the social workers and designated directors."
NDP opposition leader John Horgan said the tragedy is proof the ministry needs change after a series of high-profile tragedies.
"I don't know how many swings at the plate you get," he said.
"We need to stop defending the ministry and start defending children."
Cadieux defended her handling of the tragedy and a lack of answers. She says she sets "high-level direction" for the ministry.
"When something goes wrong — terribly, tragically wrong — as it has in this case, I am responsible to speak about it," she said.
"But that is when I find out about it, like the public."
Cadieux says a review is underway to find out what happened.
To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Teen's death leaves Minister Stephanie Cadieux 'angry' policy ignored with the CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.
With files from Richard Zussman.