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B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wants to conduct her own inquiry into the death of 17-year-old Alex Malamalatabua, who died on the grounds of B.C. Children’s Hospital, where he had been housed for five months.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

British Columbia's watchdog for children and youth says she is prepared to launch court action to obtain an internal hospital report on the death of a youth in government care.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wants to conduct her own inquiry into the death of 17-year-old Alex Malamalatabua, who died on the grounds of B.C. Children's Hospital, where he had been housed for five months. His death is one of four serious cases involving fatalities or critical injuries of youth in government care this year that her office intends to review.

"If I don't obtain that [hospital] report, how is anyone else learning from it? I have a concern that outside of B.C. Children's Hospital, no one else knows what happened to this young person," Ms Turpel-Lafond, the province's representative for children and youth, told reporters Wednesday.

"I am concerned when a wall of silence gets put up. I have to dig deeper around that situation."

Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the report is just one example of how the province is using different aspects of privacy legislation as a shield to avoid answering the questions of grieving families. She described B.C.'s application of the law in such cases as "prehistoric."

"You would be very interested to learn that there are many things that are reviewed, and no one sees them," she told MLAs at a finance committee hearing earlier in the day. "When you have extremely vulnerable children and you have a death, families want to know what happened."

Premier Christy Clark, at a separate event across town, told reporters she must abide by privacy laws, but she believes the hospital should be able to find a way to share its report to help Mr. Malamalatabua's family understand how he died.

The youth had been admitted to the hospital's child and adolescent psychiatric emergency unit in March, and was waiting for the Ministry of Children and Family Development to find a community placement where he would receive supportive care.

"There has been some debate about whether or not they feel they can share that information appropriately," the Premier said. "My understanding is they probably can find a way to share that information in that specific case while also respecting the law. My bias is in favour of sharing more information. ... In this case, they may be able to find a better balance."

An official for B.C. Children's said in a statement that the hospital will share what information it can with the Malamalatabua family and Ms. Turpel-Lafond, but that the law prohibits the release of evidence or documents prepared for the internal review into the teen's death. "We know this young person's family deserves answers and we are committed to sharing what we can, when we can," said Sandra MacKay, the chief privacy officer at the Provincial Health Services Authority.

An independent officer of the legislature, Ms. Turpel-Lafond appeared before the finance committee asking MLAs for a budget increase of $1.7-million to provide her office with enough resources to take on the four inquiries.

The government-dominated committee is expected to take until the end of November to consider her request, and Ms. Turpel-Lafond warned that if she does not receive the additional resources, she will have to tell the families that she cannot conduct those investigations. In that case, she said, she would support the families in seeking public inquiries – which could cost taxpayers at least $10-million apiece.

Linda TenPas travelled from Chilliwack to attend the finance committee meeting – her son, Nick Lang, 15, died while in government care in June – and she wants Ms. Turpel-Lafond's office to conduct a full inquiry into his death to help other families, "so they don't have to go through the pain we have gone through."

Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister for Children and Family Development, has said she cannot even read the government's review of Nick Lang's death because of legal restrictions. The family has widely shared the report and has provided Ms. Turpel-Lafond's office with a copy.

Ms. TenPas said her family has been pressured by the B.C. government not to speak publicly about her son's death.

"I won't be silenced – he can't speak for himself," she told reporters after emerging from the committee meeting. "I am not going to be intimidated."

She said if the MLAs do not approve the funding to allow the watchdog to investigate, her family will be calling for a public inquiry.