Maybe the saddest story of the North?
Your Honour, this may be the saddest story of the North I have ever told in a Court – or at least one of them.
It a story of abysmal systemic failure the dimensions of which are mind boggling – it is the one of the most Gladue intensive tragedies I have ever related to a Court.
Sam was born to a disabled woman named Suzy Smith in 1986 – he turned 30 in June.
He has 3 kids with Lucy – his youngest is 11 months, his son is 4 years old and his daughter turns 6 this month – she started school this week. Sam was with Lucy for about 9 years.
The history of occurrences involving one of the other of this couple requiring police assistance or being the subject of complaint by others to the police that was part of the material disclosed for his bail hearing was unbelievable. I think it involved something like 50 or events that required a police response. They involved this couple calling about each other, or others calling to complain about them. They have assaulted each other, there was a stabbing (by her), they have been intoxicated together, they have been found passed out in the snow.
The real surprise is not that they have continued to abuse alcohol, rather it is that there are not 50 more.
Sam’s mother Suzy is disabled. I spoke to her. She is difficult to understand and she has obvious cognitive challenges. Sam tells me that she lives in a facility for persons who are handicapped and that the Public Guardian is responsible for her affairs. She confirmed her living arrangements and was sort of able to describe her relationship with the Public Guardian. She was able to confirm some of what Chris told me about his life.
Sam tells me that his Grandmother told him that she drank during her pregnancy with Suzy and his Uncle George. My dealings with his uncle suggest that he too may have some cognitive challenges but he seems to be functioning on his own.
As I said, Suzy is clearly disabled. She was a single mom for most of Sam’s life with her. He has been told who his father is but they have never spoken.
When Sam was about 4 Suzy was invited by an older and not disabled (at least as far as Sam knows) Aunt to live in Edmonton. The thought was (to the extent that Sam has been able to put things together after the fact) that Suzy’s needs could be better met in a larger centre.
During the time they spent in Edmonton, Suzy was raped by her sister’s partner and apparently Sam was in the room watching.
Sam does not remember exactly what happened but he recalls making statements to the police about the event. He told police that he was also sexually abused by the uncle. Probably because he was about 5 at the time, he is not clear about what happened to the charges. I should say that it sounds like charges were laid because Sam was advised that there were contact restrictions in place.
At this point, in addition to his memory, he has his social services file and has reviewed it and it appears that someone noted that there was not enough evidence but it is not clear what took place in respect of his mother’s complaint or his.
Suzy confirmed for me that it happened but she could add no details.
Other family members helped them get home and almost immediately Sam became a problem – acting out and misbehaving. Social services was involved in putting him in foster care because he was well beyond Suzy’s ability to care for. That is probably why there are references to this early abuse history in his social services file.
Within a relatively short space of time – months perhaps – Sam was too much for foster parents and he ended up in a facility known as the Group Home.
It seems that from time to time he was living with Suzy for short periods of time – maybe as respite for his institutional care providers but his contact with his mother seems to have been on and off with relatively short periods of living together. The impression is that there were access visits but that Sam was normally resident in a foster home of some sort.
Apart from the fact that Suzy went to residential school (perhaps because of some special needs), she was also raped by her brother George in the mid-90s and subsequently fondled by her father.
Suzy confirmed for me that George went to jail for the rape but she didn’t know for how long. Sam thinks Uncle George was in Bowden penitentiary for 5 years. Suzy also confirmed that her father got into trouble for touching her. Sam thinks that his grandfather went to jail for 2 years.
It is impossible to know what kind of damage this incredible history did but it is simply not possible that there was not huge direct and vicarious trauma associated with all of this.
It is not a surprise that Sam was not able to get out of foster care.
However, it gets worse. He reported to social services that he was being sexually abused by one of the workers at the Group Home and it appears from his review of the file that he reported the abuse. Apparently, social services agreed that he was showing symptoms of sexual abuse but they ascribed the problem to what had taken place in Edmonton.
Ultimately he ended up moving to various homes throughout the NWT.
His last placement was a problem he recalls because he was placed with an Inuvialuit family who ate country food that he was not familiar with – muktuk for example – and when he said that he was Dene and didn’t eat muktuk, they invited him to do without. This is the first time I have seen this cultural issue and I do not know what impact that may have had upon Sam but I am sure that any teen told to eat something he doesn’t like or do without, does not come away with a warm and fuzzy recall of that home.
He does not think that he was ever out of the care of social services from 5ish to 18 (other than when he was in Young Offenders) but his last time staying with his mother involved an incident where he was accused of stealing money from mom’s boyfriend. Sam had not taken the money but the boyfriend wanted him out.
Mom probably wanted to hang onto whatever normalcy she could and she told Sam that he had to leave. At some point later in the piece the missing money turned up but Sam decided that he was done with living with his mother even for visits. He was 15 at the time.
Ultimately, he grew up in the “system”. For almost the entirety of his youth, when he was not in YO jail, he was in foster care.
At 18 he left foster care.
He appears to have a good work history. I only asked him for his most recent employment background – he was employed with a couple of local contractors for a couple of years with each of them. I only had a chance to speak to one of them but he confirmed that Sam has a job when he gets back to town.
His grandmother died last December.
He knew that social services had a problem with the way his children were being raised and he had committed to taking treatment – he had only managed to get to 1 of the 4 appointments he needs to attend at an out of territory facility at the time he was arrested.
He tells me that he realizes that the relationship with Lucy has to end for both of their sakes. He has taken his name of their housing unit and will apply for housing for himself and their children when he is released. He has counsel lined up a Legal Aid to apply for custody of his kids. He had a UI cheque come just before he was arrested and that $ is in his canteen fund and he calls his kids every day.
I asked him if he had given these details to lawyers who had acted for him previously and he said no that he hadn’t wanted to talk about any of what had happened in his life.
He explained that he has given me this history because at this point, the difference is that he wants to move forward – you will hear from him about his resolve in this regard – but the point is that he has decided that this history of conflict with the law has to end for the sake of his children. He would desperately like to get help so that he can get out for treatment and get back to social services better qualified to get them out of care than he is at present.
Getting Sam Smith fixed is the only hope we have of keeping him out of our jails and the only hope we have of having someone who really knows in his heart what foster care will mean for his children. He is motivated, profoundly motivated by that sense of the extent to which his life has been destroyed, to keep them out of care.