Inquest begins into death of Cree teen found in closet of Abbotsford group home

When asked to describe her son, Traevon, Samantha Chalifoux broke down in tears.

She said her 17-year-old son was happy, “he had goals, he had a job and wanted to go back to school.”

A coroner’s inquest began Monday into the death of the Cree youth who was reported missing from his Abbotsford, B.C., group home and found dead in the closet of his bedroom four days later.

Traevon Desjarlais was found on Sept. 18, 2020, in the home operated by an organization under contract to Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society.

Chalifoux told the inquest Monday that her son went hungry in the home and how he often called her to say he didn’t have clean clothes or bedding.

The BC Coroners Service determined an inquest into the circumstances around his death to be in the public interest.

When Desjarlais hadn’t been seen for a while, staff at the teen’s group home reportedly asked his mother if she’d heard from him. She said she hadn’t and they filed a missing person’s report on Sept. 14, 2020.

Abbotsford police officers conducted extensive interviews in their search, according to a statement at the time. They said they contacted a cell phone Desjarlais was known to use, checked hospitals, and canvassed homeless camps, shelters and resources centres in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

He was found four days later. No cause of death was released, but police said no criminality was involved.

The teen’s passing sparked grief and outrage from First Nations leaders across B.C., who said the system failed in its duty to protect him.

After Desjarlais died, his family called for a full public inquiry. They described him as a young man “loved by everyone,” who was “aspiring to find out what the world had to offer.”

“The mother has been very, very concerned about what happened leading up to the death of her son and what happened following the death of her son,” said Sarah Rauch, counsel for the teen’s mother, in October 2020.

“We’ve decided (an inquiry is) the only way that Samantha and the family and young Traevon can begin to get justice and understand what happened.”

According to the BC Coroners Service statement, the inquest will attempt to determine the cause and circumstances of Desjarlais’ death, make recommendations to prevent such deaths in the future, and ensure public confidence that the circumstances will “not be overlooked, concealed or ignored.”

The public inquiry is scheduled to last until Dec. 8.

— With files from The Canadian Press and Emily Lazatin

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