By Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star, Juloy 19, 2011
The mother of a mentally ill Pickering teen listened in horror Monday as she heard a provincial official testify at an inquest about the bureaucratic bungling that led to her son’s jail suicide.
A senior manager within the Ministry of Children and Youth Services who took the stand told the inquest that provincial officials never looked at a court-ordered plan before approving $3,500 in funding for a psychiatric evaluation of Gleb Alfyorov at Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville.
If anyone had seen the document, they might have realized Gleb had been sent to the wrong place — a jail, not a hospital — and that the youth centre was requesting funding for the wrong assessment.
Gleb’s mother, Marina Alfyorova, has now decided she wants to address the inquest, but as she attended the proceedings for the first time Monday she encountered a new series of bureaucratic hurdles....
Three years ago Gleb Alfyorov was mistakenly sent to a jail instead of a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. He was never assessed during his nearly month-long stay inside cell 12 at the Syl Apps centre.
He spent most of that time isolated, writing disjointed messages about hate and suffering on his walls and screaming “Rescue me!” in the middle of the night. He hanged himself five days after turning 17....
The inquest heard that staff at Syl Apps did not even know why Gleb was at the facility until after he died. Nobody there read the court order.
Ultimately, the province approved the funding based on a verbal request for a fitness-to-stand trial assessment instead of the more intensive evaluation actually ordered by the court to determine whether the boy was criminally responsible for his actions.
The judge in Oshawa who ordered the 30-day assessment of the teen had told him: “I want you to be with a team of specialists — nurses and doctors who can meet with you and talk with you about things.”
The duty counsel who recommended Alfyorov be sent to the centre after a brief cellphone conversation with the centre’s head psychiatrist did not realize Syl Apps was not set up to conduct such evaluations.
He told the inquest he did not realize the institution, which is privately run but government-funded, even had a jail.
The family immigrated from Kazakhstan ten years ago, and his mother, who attended the inquest, was "sickened" by what she heard, although her own command of English is still fragile.
When lawyers do not even "know" about the capabilities of the institutions to which they are recommending adolescents and people in those institutions do not even read the court orders that accompany those young people, there is literally an inexcusable dysfunction in the social services/legal system that is supposed to "serve" such families.
And the fact that this young man seems to have been struggling with some legitimate issues that even the judge could acknowledge and that his family is "immigrant" and likely to be less than completely integrated into the Canadian society...these are no excuses for his mistreatment.
The public must ask more questions through all the processes at its disposal. If the Ontario government needs to be taken to court over this death, and over its involvement in this case, then so be it.
There are several components to the "system" that failed this young man and his mother, and his case is a scathing indictment of the carelessness, the unprofessionalism and the sheer nonchalance of those acting in the public interest on behalf of this young man.