The mom of an Indigenous teen whose body was found in the closet of an Abbotsford group home in 2020 four days after he was reported missing is suing four government agencies.
Samantha Chalifoux, a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta, states in her notice of civil claim that the agencies breached their duty of care in regards to her son, Traevon Desjarlais-Chalifoux, 17, who took his own life.
It also states that the agencies failed in their duty of care to Chalifoux as an Indigenous mother who was “vulnerable to trauma in connection with the forcible removal of Indigenous children … as part of Canada’s residential school system and later the child welfare system …”
The lawsuit describes the defendants’ actions as “highhanded, shocking” and “contemptuous.”
“As a result of the negligent conduct of the defendants Traevon suffered extreme physical, emotional and psychological damage and ultimately died,” the documents state.
The defendants named in Chalifoux’s civil suit are the province of B.C., Fraser Valley Aboriginal and Family Services Society (Xyolhemeylh), Rees Family Services and the Abbotsford Police Department.
Traevon, a member of the Sunchild First Nation in Alberta, was reported missing Sept. 14, 2020 by staff at his group home on Ware Street in Abbotsford. His body was found four days later in his bedroom closet, and his death was deemed a suicide.
The teen’s death resulted in a public outcry from his family and Indigenous organizations, calling for an independent public inquiry for answers to questions such as why it took four days to find Traevon.
A coroner’s inquest into the matter is scheduled to begin Nov. 28 in Burnaby.
Chalifoux’s lawsuit states that Traevon was removed from her care shortly after his birth “without her consent.” The Ministry of Children and Family Development was eventually granted a continuing custody order.
At points over the years, Traevon lived with family and extended family, including his mom, the documents state.
They state that Chalifoux was in regular contact with her son and with the defendants, indicating her desire to care for him.
Among the allegations made by Chalifoux in her lawsuit are that:
• the group home failed to have adequate staff or staff with adequate training to provide care for Indigenous youth;
• the home failed to “monitor, investigate and address risk factors to the health, well-being and safety of Traevon”’;
• cultural resources were not provided to Traevon, despite his Indigenous background being known;
• risk factors faced by Traevon, including bullying or violence, were not addressed;
• Chalifoux was not informed of any known risk factors regarding her son’s mental or physical health;
• the authorities failed to communicate with Chalifoux, Driftpile Cree Nation or Sunchild Cree Nation that Traevon was missing and failed to correspond with her about his death;
• Traevon’s personal items in the group home were disposed of in a dumpster; and
• Chalifoux’s questions went unanswered about the source of holes in the wall that she saw in Traevon’s bedroom.
“Traevon was not located until several days after his death and the plaintiff, upon learning of same, suffered mental injury over and above the normal effects of grief and sorrow,” the lawsuit states.
Chalifoux is seeking aggravated and punitive damages.
None of the allegations has been proved in court, and none of the defendants has yet issued a response to Chalifoux’s notice of civil claim.
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