POLITICS

First Nations chiefs demand investigation into B.C. aboriginal teen's death

06/01/2015 03:14 EDT | Updated 06/01/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - Government agencies may have broken the law by repeatedly failing to report that an aboriginal teen who died of a drug overdose in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside needed protection, says the head of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip called for a police investigation of workers in health care, education, policing and community agencies accused in a report of harbouring a "culture of indifference" toward aboriginal children.

The case of a 19-year-old woman identified only as Paige was highlighted in a scathing report released last month by B.C.'s representative for children and youth, who criticized the province for what she called persistent indifference by front-line workers.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Paige's life included open drug use, police encounters and violence, and ended in her death outside a washroom at a park in April 2013.

"Obviously, Paige's horrible story and circumstances are so horrific that we cannot sit idly by and just allow government to simply brush it aside and describe it as being very unfortunate but nonetheless another tragic story from the Downtown Eastside," Phillip said Monday.

"There were so many opportunities for government officials and police officials to intervene, knowing full well that Paige was in harm's way all of her short life and that there should have been an intervention and yet there wasn't."

Phillip's concerns were outlined in a letter to Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer on May 27. He recommended that the investigation be led by an outside agency because of the possibility that some concerns could involve officers of the Vancouver Police Department.

"(We) respectfully suggest you consider ways to address the investigation so that all appearance of neutrality and fairness is evident to (the chiefs) and to the public," he wrote.

In a response mailed two days later, Palmer agreed that an "effective investigation" should be handled by an organization at arm's length. He wrote that he had approached acting deputy commissioner Dan Malo of the RCMP's E-Division about the Mounties conducting an investigation.

"The Vancouver Police Department will co-operate in every way possible with any such investigation undertaken, as it did with the investigation by the B.C. representative for children and youth."

RCMP spokesman Rob Vermeulen said in an email the Mounties have not yet received any formal request from the Vancouver police, adding that the proposal appears to have originated through private correspondence so he couldn't comment.

"No question this was a tragic event and we are still examining our potential role in consultation with stakeholders," Vermeulen said.

Provincial legislation says failure to inform the government of a child needing protection is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter