TORONTO – LETTERS – Yesterday, the presiding Coroner Dr. David Eden released his ruling on the scope of the long-awaited inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students: Jethro Anderson (age 15); Curran Strang (age 18); Robyn Harper (age 19); Paul Panacheese (age 21); Reggie Bushie (age 15); Kyle Morrisseau (age 17); and Jordan Wabasse (age 15).
In reviewing the ruling, I am most disappointed that the Coroner determined that he will not receive evidence of racism and its effects on the mental health and well-being of these children who were living away from their families and remote communities so they can receive a high school education.
Other organizations and the families of the seven youth who died have highlighted the effects that racism played on social isolation and the high-risk behaviours of these children and other First Nations youth.
I have been adamant about the need for racism to be included in the scope of this inquest. It is a reality that First Nations young people face every day and it is what they call it. The ruling fails to answer our legal arguments or provide a rationale as to why racism was not included in the scope. This is why my Office will continue to argue that racism must be added to the scope of this inquest.
Today, I have directed my legal counsel to seek a judicial review of the coroner’s decision. As a voice for children and youth in Ontario, my Office knows that the language of racism is real to First Nations young people. This is not about politics, nor is it about laying blame for young people. Racism is real in every facet of their lives. And to rule it out of this inquest is to rule out the realities lived by the seven youth who died and the realities that continue to exist for First Nations youth who are watching and waiting for all of us to make change.
We owe it to the deceased and their families to ensure that the factors and conditions that may have contributed to their deaths are examined. This includes the ugliness of racism.
Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth