Calgary

'I'm trying to save his life': Judge blasts Alberta government for mentally ill teen with nowhere to go

Alberta Judge Steve Lipton summons the media to court as he deals with the case of a mentally ill, drug addicted boy who has nowhere to go, and says he's "very, very angry" about the lack of services and supports available for the vulnerable 14-year-old.

Indigenous 14-year-old facing charges struggles with addiction and mental illness

A Calgary teen with mental health issues and drug addictions does not belong behind bars, says a judge who wants the boy sent to a secure treatment facility. All beds in the region are full. (CBC)

Update: June 2, 2017 — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has responded to the judge's concerns and pledged to boost support for young offenders with severe mental illness.


Alberta Judge Steve Lipton summoned the media to his courtroom as he dealt with the case of a mentally ill, drug addicted boy who has nowhere to go, and told reporters he's "very, very angry" about the lack of services and supports available for the vulnerable 14-year-old.

He's mentally ill, and I'm keeping him in jail and he's a kid. What's wrong with this picture?- Steve Lipton, Alberta youth court judge

"As a last resort, I asked the media to come here because of my frustration of what is going on right now in the child welfare system," Lipton, who has served on the youth court for two decades, said Thursday in Calgary. "I am trying to save his life."

The Indigenous boy — whose identity is protected by a publication ban — faces charges of assault, failure to appear, mischief and theft. 

No beds available 

The teen also suffers from paranoia and hallucinations, has been diagnosed with gonorrhoea, and is heavily addicted to crystal meth and alcohol. He believes people are going to kill him and inject him with drugs when he's sleeping.

The STI means the boy can't share a room or cell with anyone. 

"He's mentally ill, and I'm keeping him in jail and he's a kid," said Lipton. "What is wrong with this picture?"

The first option for the boy was to send him to a secure treatment bed under the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act. All those beds are full in the southern Alberta region.

Lipton said he even inquired about having the boy sent to a secure safe house for children and youth who need substance abuse treatment under the Protection for Children Abusing Drugs Act. Again, all of those beds are full.

"This is the ugly situation I am faced with today," said Lipton.

9 beds in Calgary 

In 2016, the provincial health minister announced three new beds were being added that would bring Calgary's complement to nine.

The judge noted the boy's social worker — who was in court Thursday — has gone "above and beyond" her duties to try to secure a placement for the teen.

"I'm angry, very angry. He deserves to be in a treatment facility not in jail."

Lipton said he is "sick and tired" of the government not prioritizing programs and services for vulnerable, at-risk youth. 

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Zoë Cooper, communications director for Alberta Chidren's Services, said capacity in secure facilities fluctuates, but such challenges in finding appropriate placements are rare.

"Situations like this one are extremely complex, but even in the most rare and complex cases we want to work together with other ministries, the justice system, and all of our partners, to ensure that youth have the supports they need and a safe place to go," Cooper said. 

"We have reached out to the Delegated First Nations Agency caring for this young person, and are working quickly to find a safe and supportive place for this youth." 

The boy will be back in court on Monday to see if any beds have become available. 

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