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Embattled B.C. minister Mitzi Dean moved out of child welfare ministry

Grace Lore, who had been in charge of child care, will replace Dean in the child welfare ministry
Mitzi Dean, NDP MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin. A mini cabinet shuffle was announced by Premier David Eby on Monday morning. SUBMITTED

Mitzi Dean, B.C.’s minister of child and family development, has been demoted to minister of state for child care after calls for her resignation over the handling of horrific abuse cases of Indigenous children.

Grace Lore, who had been in charge of child care, will replace Dean in the child welfare ministry.

The mini cabinet shuffle was announced by Premier David Eby on Monday morning. During a news conference in Vancouver, Eby said the decision represents a “significant reset” in the ministry.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone to say that the ministry, and particularly the [child welfare] system in the province, has faced significant challenges in reaching our shared goal of ensuring every kid is looked after, the way that they should be,” Eby told reporters.

Dean has faced repeated calls from the First Nations Leadership Council and Opposition MLAs to resign over her ministry’s handling of several child-welfare cases, including the abuse of two children in foster care near Chilliwack that left one 11-year-old boy dead and his eight-year-old sister with serious injuries.

The boy died in March 2021, but the extent of the repeated abuse and torture of the two children didn’t come to light until last summer, when the foster parents were sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter and six for aggravated assault.

It was revealed during the trial that ministry social workers hadn’t checked on the children for seven months, despite a ministry policy that welfare checks happen every three months.

Eby was asked Monday if there would be a public inquiry into the death of Dontay Patrick Lucas, a six-year-old Port Alberni boy who died in 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’s mother, Rykel Charleson, and stepfather, Mitchell Frank, were accused of depriving the little 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.

“For Dontay’s case, we’ll ensure that British Columbians get the answers they need, and in particular, that we have the information we need to prevent any similar deaths from taking place,” Eby said.

The horror all B.C. residents feel when children like Dontay are abused is profound, said Eby.

The premier said the province has an ongoing commitment to ensure that “every child grows up in a safe, in a loving home and the importance of the work that will need to continue to be done by our Minister of Children and Families to ensure that’s the case.”

The solicitor general will also ensure that people who assault or threaten children face serious and immediate consequences, said Eby.

B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, had repeatedly called for Dean’s resignation and for the child welfare ministry to be “torn down brick by brick and rebuilt.”

When asked by MLAs and reporters for an explanation as to how things went so wrong, Dean repeated government talking points, which frustrated First Nations leaders and members of the public.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in a statement in June he was “greatly disappointed to see that [the children’s ministry] has not demonstrated any sincere steps toward accountability and prevention at a broader level” and called on Dean to “acknowledge the grinding severity of this failure by resigning immediately.”

Phillip told Postmedia on Monday that he feels “a great sense of relief that Minister Dean has been removed.”

“Now we have a renewed opportunity to revitalize the ministry in regard to the many, many issues we have related to Indigenous children and their proper care,” he said.

B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon said on social media: “After years of us calling on the NDP to fire Mitzi Dean for continuous failures as minister of children and family development, it’s a relief to families and vulnerable youth that she has finally been removed for her disastrous performance.”

One of the top bureaucrats in the children and family development ministry, Allison Bond, has been removed as deputy minister and will be replaced with David Galbraith, who was deputy minister in the ministry of social development and poverty reduction.

As for Lore’s promotion, Eby said she brings with her experience in stick-handling the child care file, a PhD in gender studies, and a “very sensitive and acute understanding of how systems and structures can impact the lived experience of people in communities.”

Eby previously said Dean had his confidence and on Monday, expressed faith she would be a “tireless champion” in expanding B.C.’s $10-a-day child-care program.

— With files from Louise Dickson, Times Colonist