A Manitoba judge has called out Child and Family Services, demanding they appear before him in court to answer pointed questions about a troubled teen in their care.
The 14-year-old Winnipeg boy appeared in court Monday, expecting to be sentenced after pleading guilty to animal abuse and arson. He admits kicking a family member's cat during an argument, then later trying to burn down the group home he was placed in.
But provincial court Judge Brian Corrin said he has grave concerns about the way CFS is handling the teen and what might be in store for him once this case is finished. He worries these "very bad things" the boy has already done are a warning sign of much more serious issues to follow.
Corrin has now ordered a judicially attended conference in which the social agency will be required to be present.
"We've got to talk about the numerous hotel and emergency shelters this youth has been placed in," said Corrin. "The court is very concerned about the youth's situation. He's under tremendous emotional stress. Things are starting to spin out of control; I think that's putting it mildly."
The boy's lawyer, Lori Van Dongen, expressed concern ordering CFS to attend will be futile as Corrin has no authority to give them instructions on how to handle the boy.
"How Child and Family Services deals with him and his family is completely under their jurisdiction," she said. "The court can't order CFS to do anything."
But Corrin wasn't deterred, saying he plans to make his concerns crystal clear to the agency.
"I can bring them to a conference and talk to them about why they should do it," the judge said.
The boy had no prior criminal involvement until he was initially arrested for the attack on the cat. That came shortly after CFS removed the boy from his mother's care and placed him with his grandmother. The cat was injured but survived.
CFS then removed the boy from the grandmother and moved him to various placements, including the group home where he took an aerosol can, sprayed it under a door and ignited it with a lighter. There was minor damage but no injuries.
"It appears there's a very unwholesome situation starting to develop in the family situation," Corrin said Monday after reading a pre-sentence report that outlined many of the issues. The boy's mother has an alcohol addiction and he's witnessed numerous acts of violence while growing up, court was told.
"He has anger problems because of the family problems," said Van Dongen. She said her client is in dire need of intensive counselling and therapy but isn't being given those resources by CFS.
"Is this causing you as much pain as I think it is?" Corrin asked the teen.
"Yes," he replied.
"The reality is children shouldn't be under this kind of duress," Corrin said.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, judges have the authority to order these types of conferences as part of the sentencing process. They aren't common, but are typically done in cases such as this, which the judge described as "complex."
In addition to CFS, Corrin has also ordered the boy's mother and grandmother to attend.