British Columbia's new children's representative says provincial action on a 2012 report might have saved Métis teen Alex Gervais, who committed suicide while in government care.
In Broken Promises, a report released this week, Bernard Richard said the provincial children's ministry made abundant mistakes in trying to find a permanent home for 18-year-old Mr. Gervais, who was living alone in a Super 8 hotel in Abbotsford, supposedly attended to by a caregiver paid for by the province.
Despite the province paying more than $8,000 a month to a caregiver to look after Mr. Gervais, the caregiver was absent in the last 10 days of Mr. Gervais' life, which ended when he leaped to his death from the window of the motel.
However, in an interview Tuesday, Mr. Richard referred to another report, the Residential Review Project released in 2012. It was a review of residential care services prepared by the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Federation of Community Social Services of BC.
Among a wide-ranging series of 32 recommendations, the report suggested a push to the "permanency" of reunifying children in care with family or alternate permanent family, giving priority consideration to placing children in care with relatives or other significant adults with either established relationships with children or cultural or traditional responsibility to children.
It also suggested realigning and strengthening foster-care services and supports to better achieve permanency and stability. Mr. Richard, who has recently become B.C.'s second representative for children and youth after a career in politics, the law and serving as children and youth representative in his native New Brunswick, said greater attention to the report's conclusions "might have prevented [Mr. Gervais'] death."
He added, "I am saying it's one element that could have contributed to preventing his death. If he had access to mental-health services, that might have prevented his ultimate death."
Placing Mr. Gervais with extended family might also have put him on a better path, Mr. Richard said.
But he said he has "significant concerns" with the way the government followed up on the report. "They didn't follow up," he said.
Rick FitzZaland, executive director of the community social services federation, which co-authored the 2012 report that the representative was referring to, said he agreed entirely with Mr. Richard.
"All of the issues they identified in his report are issues that were identified in the residential review, and the report followed in 2012. We have been pushing to have those recommendations implemented ever since then," Mr. FitzZaland said in an interview on Tuesday.
He described the government response to the report as "meagre" though he said the present leadership of the ministry seems more attuned to the issues that the 2012 review addressed.
However, the children's ministry disputed the suggestions.
In an e-mail response to a Globe and Mail query, the ministry listed off 14 measures acted on over the past few years that it said were responses to the report, including the establishment of a new provincial placement review committee of senior ministry staff that review each placement into a residential care home, doubling the amount of time that youth can receive supports, and banning the non-emergency use of hotels as placements for youth in care as well as tighter rules for using such hotel stays as an option.
Stephanie Cadieux, the current children's minister, has this week acknowledged the need for a complete overhaul of the way the government contracts out services for children in care.
In a Facebook Live interview Tuesday conducted by The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers, Premier Christy Clark ruled out firing Ms. Cadieux. Asked about the issue, Mr. Richard said he was more focused on changing the ministry's culture and reluctance to make significant improvements to the system.
He said he had met with Ms. Cadieux last week and found her "completely engaged" in the issues "and quite firm in her commitment to respond."
On another issue, he said the threshold for criminal charges in the case might not be easy to meet, including whether the absence of Mr. Gervais' caregiver constituted criminal negligence. He said he would leave the issue to the police and the crown.