RCMP Tasering of boy leads to group home probe
British Columbia's children's watchdog will review group homes in the province after an 11-year-old boy in government care was shocked by an RCMP Taser.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Thursday she has repeatedly raised concerns about some group homes using police to help staff manage or discipline children in their care, and the incident earlier this month justifies a special report.
"I have raised issues with respect to group homes, particularly in the Prince George region, rigorously and consistently, for at least three years," Turpel-Lafond told reporters in Victoria.
She said she hasn't received a satisfactory response to those concerns.
"Children in care, like all children, have rights," said Turpel-Lafond. "Where use of force may be employed in a group home setting against a child, that has to be appropriate. It's for very limited reasons. And where use of force is being employed by police on a child, same thing.
"There are significant dimensions to this that need to be examined."
The provincially appointed children's representative said she did not have a number on how many incidents she knew of where police had been called to group homes, but said they are "numerous" and "frequent."
RCMP were sent to the facility near Prince George on April 7 following a 911 call that a 37-year-old staff member had been stabbed. Police found the 11-year-old suspect at a neighbouring property and an officer shocked him with a Taser during the arrest.
The province's minister for children and family development, Mary McNeil, said she shares Turpel-Lafond's concerns and has instructed her staff to assist in any way they can.
McNeil said she couldn't respond to Turpel-Lafond's criticisms about how the government oversees group homes, noting she was only appointed minister last month.
But she said she's prepared to make changes where needed.
"As a mother and a grandmother, I was extremely concerned, and I continue to be -- I'm very troubled by this," McNeil said in an interview.
"This ministry deals with children who are troubled and vulnerable, and we absolutely have to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our care."
McNeil noted the province's director of child welfare -- a position that was reinstated on the advice of the children's representative -- has sent an expert to Prince George to conduct an assessment, and the department is conducting its own "comprehensive review" into what happened.
It's believed the boy may be the youngest person ever shocked by police in Canada.
The Commissioner for Public Complaints against the RCMP has initiated his own investigation into the incident because of the boy's age, and the West Vancouver Police were asked by RCMP to investigate the incident.
A report released last year by the commission identified 194 cases between 2002 and 2009 in which the force deployed Tasers on youth aged 13 to 17. The two 13-year-olds were believed to be the youngest, prior to this incident.
The same report said RCMP Taser deployments against youth were more common in B.C. than in any other province.
The officer involved in the incident involving the 11-year-old boy has been placed on administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
Turpel-Lafond said she may yet examine the case specifically, but can proceed only after the other investigations are complete. That could take a year or longer.
The boy's parents have said he suffers from bipolar disorder and a heart condition. The Children's Ministry has declined to provide specifics, citing privacy laws, but officials have said he was the only child living in the residential facility and was under the supervision of two staff members around the clock.
Turpel-Lafond said her special report, to be delivered to the provincial legislature, will look at staffing levels in ministry facilities, whether staff are properly trained, whether the facilities are properly regulated and what actions are taken when deficiencies are discovered.
The children's watchdog said group homes are sometimes used as a substitute for more appropriate medical and mental health support.
"There was a period of time, I believe around 2002, where there were specialized mental health therapeutic resources for children in British Columbia. That mostly got shut down," she said.
Turpel-Lafond said she will also look into whether there are facilities with nurses and social workers trained to deal with children in the various regions of the province.
On any given day in B.C., there are about 10,000 children in ministry care, she said. Of those, about 10 or 11 per cent are in a group home setting, and increasingly those facilities are privately operated facilities. Whether they are privately run is not the issue, she suggested, but staff training is.
The province has recently reinstituted a provincial director of child welfare, and Turpel-Lafond said this is one of the matters she has already raised with the new director.