Tuesday, February 3, 1998

Kim Pemberton

p. A1.

Officials baffled over release of three children

The girls, allegedly sexually exploited, were let go without seeing a social worker.

A families ministry official was unable Monday to explain why three children -- one as young as 12 -- who were allegedly sexually exploited were released in the middle of the night without seeing a social worker.

Richmond RCMP say they tried unsuccessfully to get ministry help for the girls, who were picked up Jan. 2 at the home of a Richmond man who was subsequently charged with a number of sex offences, including making child pornography and procuring a person under the age of 14 for sex.

"The local [police] detachment clearly has a concern and it appears minors were let out on their own," said ministry director of communications Dale Weston. "This should not have happened. But we can't comment on what went wrong until we have all the information."

Weston said the ministry is now conducting an internal investigation into the matter because "something like this can't go unchecked."

Richmond RCMP Inspector Al MacIntyre confirmed Monday that five children, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were picked up at the home of the man.

p. A2.

Trio released at 4 a.m.

MacIntyre said police took the girls back to the police detachment and called Afterhours -- the ministry's emergency service line -- but it was clear a social worker would not be sent to help the girls.

The 12-year-old and two of the other girls were allowed to walk away from the Richmond RCMP detachment at 4 a.m. after police attempts to have a social worker meet with the girls failed. Two of the other girls had "a system in place," meaning a responsible adult came to the detachment for them, said MacIntyre.

Asked why police did not apprehend the other three girls for their own protection, MacIntyre said there was no place suitable to keep them. "Where do we hold them -- in jail?" he asked.

When asked why police didn't take the girls to a social worker at Afterhours, MacIntyre said that also wasn't an option. "It was clear they [Afterhours staff] weren't going to take them."

When asked why Afterhours staff refused, MacIntyre said he didn't want to dissect the case in the media.

Community workers in the Downtown Eastside say they are outraged the ministry didn't step in to help these children.

"These kids were very young, it was very late. It doesn't take much thought to know they were at risk," said John Turvey, of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society.

"The RCMP said they had no grounds to hold them but they are empowered under the Family Protection Act and can apprehend children at risk."

Debbie Mearns, of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Safety Office, said she's appalled the ministry didn't help these children. "What is a situation they will respond to?" she asked.

Vancouver police Constable Dave Dixon said he was aware of these particular children and he had been trying to get help for them. He said when he learned they were picked up by Richmond RCMP and released he tried to get some answers himself.

Dixon said he called Penny Priddy, the minister for children and families, to try to arrange a meeting between front-line social workers, police and her but he has not had any response.

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Created: March 21, 1998
Last modified: April 5, 1998

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