Thunder Bay

'I think that's wrong': northern Ontario grand chief issues latest call for mandatory child death inquests

The grand chief of a territorial organization that represents seven northern Ontario First Nations is the latest to call for mandatory inquests when children die in the child welfare system.

Mushkegowuk Council's Jonathan Solomon says inquests should happen when children die in child welfare system

Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon is the latest to call for mandatory inquests in Ontario when a child dies in the child welfare system. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The grand chief of a territorial organization that represents seven northern Ontario First Nations is the latest to call for mandatory inquests when children die in the province's child welfare system.

"Should we go ahead with an inquest or not? That's the call of the coroner and I think that's wrong," Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon said to Dirk Huyer, Ontario's chief coroner Thursday during a question-and-answer session at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation's Chiefs Winter Assembly.

The Q&A took place after Huyer briefed the Chiefs-in-Assembly in Thunder Bay, Ont., on an ongoing review by the chief coroner's office of the deaths of 11 young people who died while they were in the child welfare system.

Solomon noted that inquests are mandatory when a person dies in police custody or when in jail or a correctional facility.

"When a child dies under government care, it's not automatic," he said. "There's something wrong with that picture."

The Chiefs Of Ontario has also called for automatic inquests when children die in the child welfare system, as has Ontario's advocate for children and youth. Huyer said his current review is considering that question.

"That's one of those areas that I think will help to be illustrated a little bit more effectively from the results of the review, as to whether we should be doing mandatory inquests," he said. "We're talking about 11 youth who died, that's a significant number."

The expert panel review is probing the deaths of 11 young people who died between Jan. 1, 2014 and July 31, 2017. Seven are Indigenous — with all seven being from northwestern Ontario. All 11 were placed in care outside their home communities; in some cases hundreds of kilometres away. Huyer said they all had "significant challenges" with their mental health.

The review will specifically look at how the youth were cared for when they were placed in homes or facilities away from their communities and issues that may have arisen. Huyer has said it's designed to inform the investigations into their deaths. Also, he said it does not preclude inquests being called into any of the individual cases.

"A child who is under the care of the government should not be any different from other standards," Solomon said. "Parents want answers, they're seeking answers."

Huyer said the report coming out of the ongoing review — as well as potential recommendations — are expected to be made public in the summer.

With files from Jody Porter

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