Amid calls to resign, B.C.’s Children and Family Minister said her job is to find out what caused the death of an 11-year-old Indigenous boy while in foster care and ensure that it does not happen again.
“My job now, my responsibility now, since we found out about the home not being safe for kids, is to get to the bottom of how this happened in the first place, to take immediate steps to make sure that all children and youth are safe and are being cared for and to make improvements at all levels through the ministry to make sure…and that this cannot happen again,” Mitzi Dean said in an interview with Black Press Media Friday (July 14).
The ministry has been doing that work and will continue doing it, she added.
“I will continue do that work,” she said. “I’m absolutely committed to continue doing this work.”
First Nations leaders represented by the First Nations Leadership Council have called for her resignation over the death of the child, whose sister also suffered abuse at hands of their foster parents, whom a court sentenced to 10 years behind bars for manslaughter and six for aggravated assault.
Two of those First Nations leaders — Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs — have since revealed that their call for Dean’s resignation came after they had found her response unsatisfactory in substance and cold in tone.
“I absolutely understand the pain and the outrage and the horror that is felt in response to this situation and I share that,” Dean said. “I am absolutely horrified by hearing and learning about what happened in this home. It’s absolutely unacceptable and I have told my staff that and I absolutely recognize that it is re-traumatizing — and we what heard this from the directly affected communities — hearing the details of exactly what happened to these children. I absolutely understand that.”
At the same time, the ministry continues to work with FNLC, she added.
“We continue to work to restore their confidence and we continue to pursue our vision, which is supporting Nations exercising jurisdiction and taking care of their children, youth and families and making sure that the continued over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system is addressed,” she said, adding that First Nations leader have been calling for that vision for decades.
When asked, why she is the right person to keep doing this job, Dean said she has been doing the work ever since she became aware of the situation in 2020 – with much to still be done.
Both BC United and BC Greens have also joined FNLC’s call for Dean’s resignation, but Premier David Eby reinforced his support for Dean, whom he described as “profoundly affected” by the situation.
“Indigenous community members across the province were profoundly affected,” he said. “It reactivated all kinds of trauma related to our child-welfare system and its history in the province.”
He added that affected communities have asked government to refrain from from further comments. Eby’s support for Dean, as well as comments made in media interviews prompted criticism from BC United Leader Kevin Falcon.
“It’s appalling that the Minister’s response once again is to repeat scripted talking points and dodge responsibility,” he said. “What ever happened to ministerial accountability? The fact that David Eby continues to express full confidence in Minister Dean just shows the NDP has one set of rules for themselves and another for everyone else. It’s completely unacceptable.”
Front-line staff directly looking after the two children are no longer with the ministry, but Dean said labour legislation prevents her from releasing further details.
“That information is not even revealed to me,” she said.