They come to our largest urban communities from the most remote outposts in our vast country. Some come from despair seeking relief from a hostile home life with the triad of physical and sexual mistreatment and substance abuse as their daily witness. Some arrive with hopes of a better existence in a larger community. If they are by chance lucky, a kindly motorist or truck driver will contribute a meal and get them safely to their preferred destination. The unlucky ones fall prey to the pimps and drug dealers and other parasites that abound on our streets. This initiation in to the dark side of our culture may begin as early as age eleven. Even the ones with an acceptable but probably overcrowded home life succumb to the advances of the predators when they get hungry enough. It doesn’t matter which province I could identify. The same applies to Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver. Social service agencies estimate 100 to 500 of these children currently subsisting under the most abject circumstances in each of our larger urban centers. This is the history of one such child.
Paige was born to a 16 year old aboriginal mother and removed from her care multiple occasions for reason of parental substance abuse. Service records show Paige had a police file the size of a telephone book listing over 50 transient places of residence interspersed with a few legal fostering homes and several stopgap interventions by several charitable agencies. Her grandmother died on the streets of an overdose as did her mother, both before reaching age twenty. Paige was legally blind when she died at age 19. Health records show she had undergone three abortions as a minor but was never admitted to any rehabilitation program in spite of multiple police interventions for substance abuse. She died alone sprawled in an alley in the downtown from a drug overdose just shortly after Children’ services arbitrarily severed their connection as mandated by her 19th birthday without anyone connecting her with a designated contact in adult social services. There was no review of the death as mandated if she had been under the age of 18. Coroners don’t normally autopsy obvious drug overdoses in adults without suspicion of foul play.
Aboriginals in Canada by latest census number 1,500,000 people (about 4% of the general population) consisting of First Nations, Inuit and Metis. Most in eastern Canada belong to treaty organizations with established legally documented relationships with both Federal and Provincial governments. Not so in the west where the band structure is less formalized in its connections to government. In 1995, the Federal government generated an Aboriginal Right to Self Government Policy by which each community would determine its own needs and govern accordingly. This was a very flawed Pontius Pilate policy with a few bands competent to self govern but most were not. Recent audits show atrocious lacks of accountability where governments gave many millions to individual leaders unskilled to handle the temptation. To this day more than 70% of First Nations groups are failing rudimentary audits. In Ottawa, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs employs 5000 people. In Ontario, we have a Ministry of Health with a 90 BILLION dollar budget and the Ministry of Community Services not far behind. There are 75000 civil servants in Ontario with salaries greater than $100,000 . A social worker might make a third of that. In British Columbia, the Ministry of Child Development spent 66 MILLION DOLLARS “discussing theoretical fixes” but no improvement in front life outcomes.
There are solutions. Address the atrocious home life environment. Educate the First Nations personnel to self govern and build community infrastructure we take for granted. Legislate hiring and training requirements for all private sector companies with mining, foresting and construction licensing on Crown Land. Turn these Ministry bureaucracies upside down increasing front line personnel to reduce case loads and pay them remote area service bonuses similar to what Ministry of Health pays nurses and physicians in outpost locations. That’s a start.
Why must we make these commitments? We profess our social conscience. Its time to actualize this commitment. I’ve focussed on First Nations children but look around you there are many other disconnected youth on our streets who deserve our attention.
Dr. Davi Carll