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Children's advocate considers new review of Port Alberni boy's death

Representative for children and youth Jennifer Charlesworth says she wants to meet with Dontay Patrick Lucas’s family and members of the Port Alberni community
Dontay Patrick Lucas died on March 13, 2018, of blunt force trauma to the brain after being transitioned back into the care of his mother by USMA Nuu-chah-nulth family and child services. VIA FAMILY

B.C.’s advocate for children is considering a new review into the death of a six-year-old Indigenous boy killed by his mother and stepfather in Port Alberni almost six years ago.

In a statement, representative for children and youth Jennifer Charlesworth said her office is investigating the death of an 11-year-old Indigenous boy in Chilliwack and will compare it with Dontay Patrick Lucas’s case “to determine how and where the system needs to be strengthened.”

Dontay died on March 13, 2018, of blunt force trauma to the brain after being transitioned back into the care of his mother by USMA Nuu-chah-nulth family and child services.

Dontay was from the same family as 19-month old Sherry Charlie, who was apprehended by the Nuu-chah-nulth child protection agency and placed in a home where she was beaten to death in 2002.

His story has illuminated the systemic issues that need to be addressed during a transition that will give First Nations complete control over the care of their children.

Dontay’s story will inform the recommendations she will present to the government in June, said Charlesworth.

The representative said she completed a comprehensive review of Dontay’s case in 2020 and shared her findings with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and USMA in 2021.

She now wants to meet with Dontay’s family and members of the Port Alberni community to make sure the information her office has about the case is as complete as possible.

“If there are outstanding questions beyond the scope of this investigation and review, we will determine if a new review should be initiated,” she said.

Dontay’s mother, Rykel Charleson, and stepfather, Mitchell Frank, were accused of depriving the boy of water, food and sleep, hitting and biting him. The couple, who were originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and are to be sentenced in Port Alberni on May 16 and 17.

Dontay’s father, Patrick Lucas, and other family members have never been told why Dontay was returned to his mother’s home and why no one investigated numerous reports of neglect and abuse made to the RCMP and the child protection agency.

On Thursday, Lucas said he is excited to meet with the children’s advocate.

“I’m as good as ready,” said Lucas, who launched an online petition demanding a thorough investigation into his son’s death.

Last month, Charlesworth said she made the decision not to conduct a full investigation into the child’s life and death due to a number of factors, including the potential further trauma it could cause the family and community, and the amount of time that had passed since his death and how that might affect the quality of the investigation.

Charlesworth said she was unable to investigate Dontay’s death because of the ongoing criminal case, “which will only end after the accused are sentenced and the appeal period is over.”

On Wednesday, Charlesworth said she is actively monitoring developments from the criminal proceedings to determine what can be learned and acted upon and what questions are still outstanding.

Her decision to consider a new review and meet with members of Dontay’s family and the community comes two days after Premier David Eby said he would make sure British Columbians get the answers they need in Dontay’s case, “and in particular that we have the information we need to prevent any similar deaths from taking place.”

On Monday, Eby replaced Mitzi Dean with Grace Lore as minister of child and family development, saying he needed a “reset at the ministry.”

The children’s ministry said this week it shares the premier’s commitment to getting Dontay’s family and British Columbians answers.

“We’ll continue to look at what options are available to provide those answers. We would welcome any investigation by outside agencies — however, the Representative for Children and Youth makes their own independent decisions about the work they undertake,” the ministry said.

Charlesworth also emphasized that her office is independent and does not take direction from the premier or from government ministers. By law, only the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth — an all-party committee of the legislative assembly — can directly request that her office undertake an investigation.

The office is not responsible for the actions or decisions of the government, she noted.

“As an oversight body, we are a critical voice for ensuring children and youth are safe, supported and provided with the services they need to flourish. But at the end of the day, the government is accountable for children in care.

“My job is to make sure children and youth get action. The tragedies that we have seen in the Fraser Valley and on the Island are heartbreaking and absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately, government has been inconsistent in acting on recommendations we have made over the past five years.”

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