At 11, he was tasered by police.
By 13, he was identified as one of B.C.’s “most vulnerable” children in a scathing report on the child welfare system.
And last year, the province agreed to a record-breaking multi-million dollar settlement for his future care.
Now — months after the young man reached his 19th birthday — the Public Guardian and Trustee has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to have him declared incapable of managing his own affairs.
If granted, the order would give the Public Guardian legal and financial responsibility for the man’s estate.
It’s a unique situation which the woman who highlighted the teenager’s plight says should be navigated carefully in order to avoid having one arm of government pay millions to another, while the individual whose future is at stake lives like a lost cause under 24-hour supervision.
“This is a very important case and this individual is a very significant individual — as is anyone else. But the level of jeopardy of his liberty, his choice in his life is enormous,” says Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth.
“I want him to have peace in his life. I want him to get support. I want him to have siblings, friends, family, community and to have every opportunity to address the damage that was done. That was my wish for him when I had his case. But knowing how these systems work, it’s haunting when you think about the power of the state here.”
Neglect, abuse, isolation, cold showers
According to the Public Guardian’s petition, the young Aboriginal man turned 19 in June. He can’t be identified because of a publication ban.
The petition claims medical and factual evidence prove he can’t look after himself or his finances. The Public Guardian may be appointed to take on that role when no appropriate family or friends are willing, able and suitable to act.
Turpel-Lafond, who is now a law professor at the University of B.C., wrote about the young man in a 2013 report entitled Who Protected Him? How B.C.’s Child Welfare System Failed One of Its Most Vulnerable Children.
Her investigation painted a horrific picture of his childhood: his parents raised him for two years in an atmosphere of violence, neglect and substance abuse; he then bounced between foster homes; one family kept him locked in a shed; another punished bed-wetting with cold showers and bad behaviour with hot sauce in his mouth.
A succession of foster parents used unsanctioned “safe rooms” to punish him. Police were first called to deal with his tantrums when he was eight. He was tasered when he was 11 after he stabbed a group home manager with a knife.
In the wake of Turpel-Lafond’s report, the public guardian hired outside counsel to sue the province and a foster parent on behalf of the youth.
The case resulted in a settlement last February that included $2.75 million to pay for legal costs and the establishment of a trust fund that is not allowed to dip below $3 million over the course of the youth’s lifetime.
‘Too easy to blame the child and the youth’
Turpel-Lafond says she believes the settlement is the largest of its kind ever reached in Canada and will likely ultimately be worth tens of millions. She says the money at stake should trigger extra legal scrutiny.
“There should be a special kind of accountability when you have someone who’s been through foster care and been abused. They turn 19 and you go to declare them incapacitated; my feeling is there should be more accountability around how are they doing,” she says.
“Someone should be overseeing that as opposed to those who are administering those funds. Checks and balances need to be there. I’m not saying there’s problems. It’s just too easy to blame the child and the youth.”
In a statement, the Public Guardian and Trustee said the office would have an obligation under the law to “act in the best interests of the adult represented” if the petition is granted.
The office won’t comment on the specifics of the case, but said that if a person is incarcerated, the Public Guardian would still retain the authority to act in their place.
‘Support workers ‘shadowed’ his movements’
According to the court documents, the youth has mostly lived at a Lower Mainland residential facility since 2012. He is the lone occupant. Support workers help him and monitor his activities 24 hours a day.
“During his residence there, he was permitted to leave but when he did, two support workers ‘shadowed’ his movements to monitor his activities to try to ensure his safety,” the petition reads.
“(He) engages in high risk behaviour including seeking and taking illicit drugs but not medications prescribed for him, drinking hard alcohol, seeking sexual encounters in public places and walking non-attentively on roads with moving traffic.”
When he turned 19, support and services for the young man were handed from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to Community Living B.C..
The public guardian claims the youth has overdosed on illicit drugs, engaged in threatening behaviour and committed crimes that have resulted in criminal prosecutions and convictions.
He was detained and certified under the Mental Health Act in the spring and has been admitted to hospital several times since, most recently in July for a drug overdose.
‘A very sweet, personal young man’
The court file includes letters from two psychiatrists and a family doctor.
One gives a “guarded” prognosis for the future. Another says his “(intellectual disability), impulsivity and significant deficits in organizing means that he is not able to budget, plan and manage money even on a weekly basis.”
But there is hope.
“It is important to point out that (name withheld) can be a very sweet, personal young man,” writes another psychiatrist.
Turpel-Lafond says that given the amount of money available for the young man’s future care, the system should be able to come up with some creative ways to kindle that kind of possibility.
“It’s expected in our society that we’re going to have complex cases. But kids that are abused and maltreated in extreme ways, they don’t just recover. They need support and they need lifelong support,” she says.
“And it’s hard to point within the ministry for children and families or Community Living B.C. to the branch or arm that has that expertise.”