BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Teen Refugee Sues Gov't For Alleged Solitary Confinement

11/25/2015 08:52 EST | Updated 11/26/2015 12:59 EST
Helene Vallee via Getty Images

VANCOUVER — A teenage refugee from South Sudan is suing the British Columbia government alleging the Children's Ministry is responsible for him enduring solitary confinement for four months.

The youth, known in court documents as K.C., filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court this week alleging his rights were infringed during imprisonment at the Burnaby Youth Detention Centre.

His lawyer Chris Terepocki said K.C. asked him to speak to media in order to shine a spotlight on his ordeal, with the aim of preventing other youth from going through the same treatment.

"He said, 'No man, I want people to know and I want them to know right away that this has happened to me,''' Terepocki said in an interview Wednesday. "It's very important to him.''

Terepocki said K.C.'s "unacceptable'' punishment was meted out after the young man assaulted a staff worker.

The court documents say the ministry moved him to a separate confinement unit for the maximum allowable period of 72 hours after an altercation with a correctional officer.

When the time expired, staff cleared out an entire unit, took away all extraneous furniture and placed K.C. back inside by himself, say the documents. Correctional staff were advised that "no one was to have one-on-one contact'' with the young man.

"He said, 'No man, I want people to know and I want them to know right away that this has happened to me.'"

The documents say K.C. was served meals by a staff member who would only enter and place the meal tray on a table when he had been remotely locked inside his cell.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

Rare circumstances

Ministry spokesman Bill Anderson would not comment while the case is before the court, but said separate confinement arrangements are made on rare occasions to ensure the safety of other youth and staff.

"These rare circumstances are continuously reviewed to assess when it is safe, and in the youth's interest, to be reintegrated with other youth,'' he said in an email.

K.C. was living in New Westminster, B.C., but the documents say he has been imprisoned since October 2014 on allegations of murder and attempted murder.

He alleges he was confined between Nov. 4, 2014 and March 17, when he was 17 years old.

Terepocki said the "vulnerable'' youth came to Canada as a convention refugee at least five years ago, and has been diagnosed with an intellectual impairment, called Severe Conduct Disorder.

He said his client is seeking damages for negligence and false imprisonment, and claims charter rights violations including to life, liberty and security of the person and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

"These rare circumstances are continuously reviewed to assess when it is safe, and in the youth's interest, to be reintegrated with other youth."

Terepocki said his client is suing for a "substantial amount'' with the aim of deterring the ministry from permitting such actions in the future.

"I don't know if this is a systemic thing or if this is a one-off, but at the end of the day they have to be held to account.''

B.C.'s children's ministry has come under intense scrutiny this year for its handling of several other cases.

They include a young aboriginal woman, identified only as Paige, who died of an overdose in 2013, and the death of teenager Alex Gervais, who fell from a hotel window.

A judge also found that social workers knowingly violated a court order and allowed unsupervised access to a father who had sexually abused his other kids.

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter.

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