[Editor’s note: This story contains disturbing information about the death of a child.]
Family members of Noelle O’Soup and Indigenous leaders are calling for change following the discovery of the 14-year-old’s body in a single-room occupancy building in the Downtown Eastside.
O’Soup, who was also known as Ellie, was in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and disappeared from foster care in Port Coquitlam on May 21, 2021, at 13.
O’Soup’s body was identified by the BC Coroners Service last week, one of two deceased people found in an apartment in an SRO building in the Downtown Eastside on May 1.
“We need our women, our children to be protected,” said Rebecca Brass, O’Soup’s aunt, at a vigil this week. “MCFD needs to do better. [Ellie] was in their care.”
O’Soup was Métis, but also had connections to Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc in B.C. and Key First Nation in Saskatchewan.
The cause of death for the two bodies discovered on May 1 at 405 Heatley St. has not yet been determined, and Vancouver police say they are continuing to investigate.
A man in his 40s was previously found dead in the same apartment on Feb. 23, police say, but have released no details about whether or how the three deaths are connected.
B.C.’s advocate for children in foster care, Jennifer Charlesworth, told The Tyee that O’Soup had been known to her office.
While Charlesworth could not divulge any details because of privacy reasons, she explained that children and youth can either reach out to the Representative for Children and Youth directly for help or staff will flag patterns such as multiple injuries, repeated attempts to run away, overdoses or other troubling incidents for review.
Because O’Soup had been previously known to the Representative for Children and Youth, Charlesworth confirmed her office will now be reviewing the death.
But the independent office must wait until the BC Coroners Service has completed its report, and until any criminal investigation has concluded.
At the vigil, O’Soup’s aunts said they believe Ellie is now at rest and with family members who have previously passed away.
But they’re angry at the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the police and the media for failures to properly care for and look for Ellie.
Brass said media stories suggested Ellie had run away and didn’t want to be found.
“That doesn’t sit right with me,” Brass said. “[Ellie] wanted to be found.”
After decades of colonial policies that ripped Indigenous families apart, Indigenous parents and their kids are vastly overrepresented in B.C.’s child welfare system. Two-thirds of kids in care in B.C. are Indigenous, despite making up just 10 per cent of all children.
Kukpi7 Roseanne Casimir, Chief of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc, referred to new legislation Canada adopted in 2019 that recognizes the jurisdiction of Indigenous communities over their children.
“There should have been a system in place to support Noelle, that should have been support for the family and also for the grandparents, the extended family — even in Tk'emlúps,” Casimir said during the June 28 vigil.
“I hope the family can find justice.”
A March 2022 report from the Representative for Children and Youth found that the B.C. government is woefully underfunding the child welfare system for kids who don’t live on reserves.
The report found that while Canada has increased funding for children who live on-reserve after a human rights case found the nation was discriminating against Indigenous kids, provincial funding for children off reserve has fallen behind.