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Killers Try Again

June 21, 2009 permalink

British Columbia MCFD showed its skill at child care by killing Felicia Wale's son Jor-el Macnamara. So what are they doing with her other two children? Keeping them away from her. This is far from the only case in which child protectors strike again after killing a child.



Tragic consequences

Jor-el Macnamara
Felicia Wale, whose son died earlier this month in government care, can't understand why the state has taken away her children.

Robert Matas

New Hazelton, B.C. — From Saturday's Globe and Mail, Saturday, Jun. 20, 2009 03:57AM EDT

Felicia Wale burst out in tears when the child protection worker told her that the government was not going to give back her two daughters. Two weeks after her 21-month-old son, Jor-el Macnamara, died while in government care, she could not understand why her worker believes her children were better off under government supervision.

“They said I was an unfit mother,” Ms. Wale said this week during an interview in the village of the Gitanmaax band outside the northern town of Hazelton, 1,400 kilometres north of Vancouver. “And here, when I had them, my children never had a bruise on them. They'd never been to the hospital. When they do get sick, I look after them.”

Ms. Wale, in a sweatshirt and jeans, appeared stunned and a bit overwhelmed by what she was going through. Her eyes looked puffy, but they were dry. She spoke quietly but forcefully, repeatedly saying she feels those in authority failed her and her baby.

Ms. Wale and her partner, Will Macnamara, had little money. The babies slept on piles of blankets on the floor. But their apartment was always clean, she said. “I would clean up every single day. It would get messy overnight and I would clean. We always had a clean place.”

The three children – Tasheena was not yet three when she was taken from her parents, Jor-el, and Trinity, who was born on Jan. 5 – were removed a few days after Ms. Wale turned 20. She had been taken into police custody after her arrest for aggravated assault in a domestic dispute. But fighting with her partner, the father of her children, does not mean she cannot take care of her children, she said.

“The kids were perfectly fine with me,” she said. “I was really good with the kids. Everybody knows, I'm a really good mom.”

She wants her daughters with her. “I want them back. If they were with me, everything would be okay,” Ms. Wale said. “They should have never really taken the kids away from me.”

Jor-el died on June 3, less than two months after the government removed the children. A youth has been charged with second-degree murder in his death. The media is prohibited from reporting his identity.

Jor-el's death sent shock waves through this northern community, already hardened by extremes. Several oversize billboards urge women not to hitchhike, a constant reminder of those who disappeared along Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears. Many live with violence in the home. Police in Hazelton say intervention in domestic violence is one of their biggest jobs.

“I think people are sincerely trying to change things, but it comes from generations of substance abuse,” said Sergeant Hector Lee. “The issue here is alcohol. A lot of the problems are fuelled by alcohol and illegal substance abuse.”

Alice Maitland, the mayor of the village of Hazelton, said the region is “at the bottom of the barrel for practically everything” in the provincial index of well-being. Unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, children with birth defects caused by mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and “the phenomenon of kids having kids” were among the issues confronting the community, she said. Gitanmaax band officials declined to be interviewed this week.

The death of a baby in care has also turned the spotlight on B.C. child-protection policies. The government overhauled its legislation and refashioned its bureaucracy after toddler Sherry Charlie was killed in 2002 by an uncle after being taken away from her mother and placed in his home. But the reforms did not help Ms. Wale or her son.

memorial for Jor-el Macnamara
A memorial for Jor-el Macnamara has been set up.

Ms. Wale is a member of the Gitanmaax band. She lived in Smithers with her partner, who is not a band member, and their children, and then in New Hazelton, adjacent to the band's reserve. She dealt with workers from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, although staff from the Gitanmaax band office were involved in decisions about care of her children.

She had scheduled visits with her children after they were removed from her home in April. She said that on three occasions, she told authorities about problems with Jor-el's care. She took Jor-el to the hospital to have medical staff look at bruises; another time, she called police to report an eruption of violence that threatened her children. She also spoke to ministry staff.

No one responded to her appeal for help. She was told the bumps and bruises on her baby's body were from falls.

Ms. Wale described Jor-el as a happy child, outgoing and fond of company. He had just started talking “in a baby way,” she said. “He'd say peeze and mom and gramma. He'd say hi for hi and bye. He was learning the basics.”

Ms. Wale had met Mr. Macnamara, the father of her three children, at a fair in Smithers, about an hour away from Hazelton. She was 16 and in Grade 10 when she became pregnant with Tasheena. She dropped out of school just before the baby was born on June 14, 2006. Jor-el was born 15 months later. Trinity was born 16 months after Jor-el.

Ms. Wale spoke plainly about the incident that led to her children being removed from her home. “I assaulted him,” she said bluntly. When they took the kids, she wanted them to be in an aboriginal home. She did not want them placed with non-aboriginals outside Hazelton, as her worker had done with the two older children when she was pregnant with Trinity. “They were with white people,” she said.

The two older children came back from the non-aboriginal family, but, Ms. Wale said, she did not receive the support that she anticipated from the ministry. “They did not even keep in contact with me. And they made me promises too,” she said. She thought that the ministry would find a nicer place for them. “We were staying in this small little apartment. We even wanted beds, but we did not tell them that. But they seen our place and everything. They checked our place and they did not offer beds for the kids,” she said.

“[The children] were sleeping on lots and lots of blankets for beds,” she added.

She believes the ministry should have done more to help her take care of her children. “They are the workers. They were supposed to take care of whatever problems that were in the home. They are the ministry of child and family – that is what they are there for, to help families.”

Ms. Wale was allowed to see her daughters this week in the home where they were moved after Jor-el's death. They are with a non-aboriginal family in Smithers, about 70 kilometres from her home in New Hazelton. She has been told “she has to work on herself” before her daughters can be returned, her great aunt Nancy Dickinson said afterwards. But Ms. Wale is determined “to do what she needs to do,” Ms. Dickinson said.

Ministry officials refuse to talk about the family, citing privacy reasons and criminal proceedings.

Ms. Maitland, the mayor for the past 33 years, does not blame the ministry staff. She is critical of the B.C. government for failing to provide adequate resources. The child and family services are understaffed, leaving social workers with caseloads that are too big. With a far-flung population, the social workers spend a lot of time on the road, going to young moms. “They cannot be there consistently to help these moms,” she said.

She also feels she shares some of the blame for what happened to Jor-el. “I think I could have done a little bit more,” she said in an interview at Hazelton's Northwest Community College, where she is the campus manager.

She thought about the woman who took care of Ms. Wale's three babies. “If someone dumped three kids that age on me, I'd have a nervous breakdown,” she said.

“I said to myself, what could I do to help. But I did not do anything. And that's too bad,” she said, adding that in retrospect she has thought of many things she could have done.

She suggested that maybe everyone who came into contact with the children should have taken some responsibility to help out. “Maybe we should all be front line [workers],” Ms. Maitland said.

Source: Globe and Mail