Children in care to be taken out of Winnipeg hotels after serious attack on girl

Manitoba's family services minister has ordered staff to remove children in care from Winnipeg hotels, in light of a serious attack this morning that left a 15-year-old girl in critical condition.

Teenage victim was in family services care and staying at hotel near assault scene, minister confirms

A 15-year-old girl in the care of Child and Family Services was found in Winnipeg in critical condition after an attack 3:20

Manitoba's family services minister has ordered staff to remove children in care from Winnipeg hotels, in light of a serious attack this morning that left a teenage girl in critical condition.

Kerri Irvin-Ross confirmed the teen is in care of the province's Child and Family Services system and was staying at a downtown Winnipeg hotel, near the location where she was found.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said an investigation is underway into how the girl could have left the hotel and her supervisors. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)
"I'm deeply troubled that this has happened to a child in the care of Child and Family Services," Irvin-Ross told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

"We have a responsibility," she added, her voice cracking, "to protect children in our care and provide them with places of safety."

Sources have told CBC News the victim is 15 years old and was staying at the Best Western Charter House Hotel on York Avenue between Hargrave and Donald streets.

Irvin-Ross said an investigation is underway into what happened, including how the girl left the hotel and her supervisors.

The minister said all children and youth in care who are temporarily placed in hotel rooms — a controversial option in Manitoba for housing children in care — will be moved to other accommodations.

Nine children in care are currently being housed in hotels, but Irvin-Ross said that practice will end by June 1.

"I have ordered my staff to immediately find alternative, safe places for children who are currently in hotels," she said.

The province is creating new emergency foster home spots and reducing its reliance on outside contract workers over two years.

Cadets guard the scene of the assault in Winnipeg on Wednesday. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)
Hotels are a last resort, Irvin-Ross said, but the number of children in care has risen recently and there aren't enough alternatives. It takes time to build up foster and group home spaces, she added.

Manitoba has around 10,000 children in care. The vast majority are aboriginal.

On any given day, dozens of those children are put up in hotel rooms because there isn't room in a foster home.

The minister said that even though the girl in this case was supervised, Child and Family Services workers are instructed not to restrain children — even the ones who are considered to be high-risk.

"We still have a responsibility to keep them safe, but there are limitations and the workers are committed to that," she said. "Everybody's heart is breaking today."

Found near a parkade

Winnipeg police said officers were flagged down by someone at about 5 a.m. after coming across the injured girl near a parkade.

She was rushed to hospital, where she was last reported to be in critical condition.

A handbag, wallet and makeup are seen in a cordoned-off area on Hargrave Street where a teenage girl was found critically injured early Wednesday morning. (CBC)
A section of Hargrave Street between St. Mary and Graham avenues was quickly surrounded by yellow police tape. A handbag and its contents were seen scattered on the ground near the parkade.

Officers from the Winnipeg Police Service's forensic unit were at the scene through much of the evening. Investigators were seen driving up and down the parkade ramp.

One 14-year-old boy told CBC News he spoke with the teen outside the hotel at around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

The girl was with a group of friends, according to the boy, who said the group left the hotel and went in the direction of CityPlace shopping centre.

"She told me that she wanted … to be left alone. She was with a lot of friends. She had, like, three friends with her, I believe," the boy said, adding that he saw one male and two girls with her.

Tina Fontaine was placed in same hotel

The attack marks the second incident within a year involving a teenage girl who was checked into the Best Western Charter House Hotel in care of Child and Family Services.

The body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was recovered from the Red River in August, over a week after she was reported missing.

Police are treating her death as a homicide, but no arrests have been announced to date.

A friend later told CBC News that Fontaine had been in Child and Family Services care, but she walked away from the hotel on the night she was last seen alive.

Darlene MacDonald, Manitoba's children's advocate, said she has been calling for an end to hotel placements for children in care since 2002. The children's watchdog has released several reports since then that have raised concerns about the practice.

"We've known for a long time that hotels cannot substitute for the care given for a child," she said.

Progressive Conservative critic Ian Wishart said the province's NDP government has had years to address this crisis. Hotels are the worst place to put a vulnerable child, he said.

"There is very little supervision," Wishart said.

"They are taking them from a medium-risk environment, in many cases, and putting them in the absolute highest-risk environment you can imagine."

With files from The Canadian Press