Thursday, November 3, 2011

RIP: Divas (David Joseph) Boulanger

On this Day in 2004, the body of Divas (David Joseph) Boulanger was discovered by hunters in some brush behind a Trans-Canada Highway rest stop 8 km east of Portage la Prairie, MB.

Boulanger, 28, was born a male but was living as a woman. She was last seen alive on the night of September 28, 2004.

Theodore Raymond Herntier, 41, of Arcola Sask. has been arrested and is awaiting trial.

A Winnipeg Mother calls for the Manitoba Government to change legislation

My name is Shannon Buck. I am the mother of Lauren Chopek. She is a 14 year old Metis girl who struggles with addiction issues and depression. I am seeking the right to access services for my daughter without having to voluntarily place her in the care of Child and Family Services. She has gone from receiving awards for high academic achievement, to dropping out of school, being sexually exploited, charged with criminal offences and running away 19 times, since 2008, the majority of times occurring in 2011.

Lauren is aware of the risks she is taking, but states that the addiction is too overwhelming for her to cope with and it is the addiction that has led her into a life of crime, sexual exploitation, and running away from home. Lauren wants help with her issues, but does not possess the strength at this time to behave in a manner that will keep her safe.

During the last 2.5 years, I have accessed what is available to me as a parent:

  • Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre
  • Psychiatric services at the Health Sciences Centre
  • Youth Addiction Stabilization Unit
  • Behavioural Health Foundation
  • AFM Youth Services
  • Mobile Crisis
  • Crisis Stabilization Unit

Unfortunately, these services have not been able to meet her needs. More appropriate programming is available, but only if she is in the care of CFS.

I am uncomfortable with the fact that the Government of Manitoba has structured a system that denies a parent’s right to access resources without becoming dependent upon a system that, quite honestly, is seriously flawed, when it comes to caring for our children.

I do not want to voluntarily place my child in the care of Child and Family Services for the following reasons:

  • 145 children have died while in the care of CFS or shortly after leaving the care of CFS since 2004 (report by Office of the Children’s Advocate, 2008)
  • Many children who are in the care of CFS are not reported missing by their social workers (information received from a former lawyer for CFS), or social workers are not available to provide necessary consent for the Missing Person’s Unit to act in a timely manner.

(Examples: During a meeting with the detective assigned to my daughter’s missing person’s cases, I was informed that the social worker who was dealing with the other girl that had gone missing with her, had not contacted Missing Person’s to consent to a media release - this was 5 days after the girl had gone missing. After she recognized me from a news broadcast, a community member approached me with a story about her niece, who she had run into on the street. The niece told her that she had been on the street for 2 months- the girl had never been reported missing, and the woman was unaware that she was not in her assigned placement until their discussion.)

  • 74% of young girls involved in the sex trade are of Aboriginal descent (which my daughter is) and of that 74%, 98% are currently in the care of CFS. (Sexual Exploitation Statistics for Manitoba)
  • A Sexual Exploitation Investigator had spoken to my daughter several times without my knowledge or permission about issues that I had not yet been informed of. I only became aware of this through my daughter. I received a letter several weeks later from a treatment worker about an incident, which was not shared with me by this worker. My daughter was not in the care of Child and Family Services and my rights as a parent to be informed were violated by this worker and her agency.
  • Because my daughter is a high risk, female adolescent, the chances of her being placed in a hotel room are high, due to the lack of appropriate foster placements ( Office of the Children’s Advocate Report on Emergency Placements for Children in Manitoba’s Child Welfare System, 2009)

One recommendation, made to the Manitoba government, by the office of the Children’s Advocate, in 2006, is that the Government should support families in accessing appropriate medical resources for their children without having to sign a Voluntary placement Agreement. This recommendation has never been implemented by the Government, resulting in the forced “voluntary” involvement with a system that has consistently proven to be more of a detriment to the health and wellbeing of our children and families, then a help.

I am aware of other facts, that suggest that the CFS system and government policy in regards to at risk children and services is seriously flawed, paternalistic and more about the money then the welfare of our children. Some of these facts include:

  • One of the requirements of applying for a Voluntary Placement Agreement, is providing financial information, in order to obtain services from CFS.
  • Many of the programs that are available are funded according to the number of children in care who are involved in the program, thereby creating a need to keep the numbers high in order to access funding
  • All CFS agencies are funded by the Provincial Government, specifically, the Family Services Minister
  • All CFS agencies are funded according to how many children they have in care, thereby creating a need to keep the numbers high in order to access funding
  • There are three times more kids in CFS today than were ever in residential schools. If you want more information please see First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

As a concerned parent, seeking help for my child, I have taken exactly the same actions to protect her, as CFS would and in some situations, more. The issue arises with the accessibility of more appropriate services. There are other programs available, but are out of reach to me because she is not in the care of CFS and I am unable to afford the cost myself.

All I want is to be able to access resources for my daughter to keep her safe and alive without having to be dependent on this system. I am capable of doing so, I am simply not allowed to.

I am but one of many parents who are struggling with this issue. Due to the historical relationship between the Child Welfare and Aboriginal peoples, personal experiences ,(my own and that of parents I have worked with during my time in the social services sector), and the stigma attached to having a child in the care of CFS, many parents do not see a VPA as a viable option for them. This had led to our children and youth unable to access resources and a high number of at risk youth going without the help they require. The parents I have worked with have come seeking more help for their children, but have come up against a closed door that does not permit them to enter unless they place their children in the care of Child and Family Services.

I am calling on the Government of Manitoba to change legislation in order to remove the systemic barriers that parents face when attempting to access services for their children and to ensure that all families are able to reach resources without forced dependence upon Child and Family Services regardless of race or income.

Not only would a change to the legislation, empower more parents but would also reduce the pressure on an overwhelmed Child Welfare system. If the government would not force parents to enter the system through restricting access to services, the burden would be lifted from the shoulders of social workers and they would better able to conduct the business of protecting children.

It is time that we take a stand to allow parents to be parents and stop the Child and Family Services System from feeding off of the suffering of our families and especially our children. Not only for myself and my situation, but for the other families in this province that are experiencing the same pressure to give over care of their child to this antiquated, colonial and oppressive system.


Shannon Buck

Social Services Provider and Mother

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Charlene Ward: UNSOLVED Homicide

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE - November 1st marked four years since Charlene Ward, 46, was killed in her Portage La Prairie home. Ward's case remains unsolved, and to date there are no new leads.

In a post on Missing Manitoba Women's wall, Ward's daughter wrote:

"It's heart breaking to see all these missing and murdered woman, I know my mom is gone, but it doesn't make it any less painful. My heart goes out to all the family of missing or murdered women, I truly know how you feel."

Ward's family needs to find out who did this. If you have any information, call the Portage la Prairie Police Department at (204)-857-8767 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Stone Unturned: A family remembers a lost mom

It’s been an annual tradition for Patience Bushby for her entire life. The three-year-old daughter of missing Manitoba woman Claudette Osborne has attended rallies, vigils, concerts and memorial walks in remembrance of her mother and other missing and murdered women since she’s been born.

Sunday was no exception. Patience, along with her father Matt Bushby, and Osborne’s other children, four-year-old Iziah and six-year-old Layla were at the No Stone Unturned concert in honour of Osborne and other missing and murdered women.

The fair-haired little girl, who bares a striking resemblance to her mother, wore a shirt with a picture of Osborne’s face underneath the word “missing.” Though she’s never met her mom, Patience knows that the picture on her shirt is of “Mama June,” and she also knows that Mama June is lost.

“We come to keep Claudette’s memory alive and to keep raising awareness on the fact that she is still missing and that this has to stop happening to women,” said Bushby, who along with his other kids, were wearing the same shirt. “She is missed and still very much loved every day.”

Osborne’s entire family was joined by a few hundred other people at Memorial Park across from the Winnipeg Legislature to take in the all day venue of live entertainment and a feast of stew and bannok.

Also on hand for the concert were advocates from Walk 4 Justice, a non-profit group consisting of family members of some of Canada’s missing or murdered women. The group is walking across Canada to raise awareness about the hundreds of unsolved cases of missing and murdered women in Canada.

Bernadette Smith, event organizer and Osborne’s sister, said that putting on the concert was a way for the family to not only remember their sister and daughter, but to also raise awareness about her and the rest of Manitoba’s missing and murdered women.

Osborne was just 21-years-old when she went missing from Winnipeg’s North End in the early morning hours of July 24, 2008. Two weeks before her disappearance, the young mother gave birth to her fourth child, Patience Claudette Bushby.

Two days after their daughter was born, Bushby said that Child and Family Services apprehended the newborn and placed her into foster care until he could manage the resources to care for the infant as a single father. At the time the couple was still together, but Bushby was living with the kids in their home outside the city and Osborne was living in a rooming house in Winnipeg to comply with an order from Child and Family Services.

“All she ever wanted was a family,” Bushby said as he wiped away tears.

After losing custody of her daughter, Bushby said that Osborne was devastated. He describes that time as one of the lowest moments of her life. He said that she coped by turning to crack; a nasty drug habit that she’d kicked and been clean from for almost three years.

The last time Bushby spoke to Osborne, the young mother called to tell him that she was ready to get her life back on track. She told him that she didn’t want to lose him or the kids, and that she was entering rehab.

“She was going to go into treatment on the Monday,” he said.

However, in the early morning hours of Thursday, July 24, 2008, Osborne vanished from Selkirk Avenue and King Street in Winnipeg’s North End. Family and friends of the young mother are pleading that anyone with information about her disappearance contact the Missing Persons Unit at (204)-986-6250, or Winnipeg Crime Stoppers at (204)-786-8477 (TIPS).

“We need closure,” Bushby said. “My kids need closure.”

NOTE: A story I wrote for the Portage Daily Graphic

Monday, August 1, 2011

Missing Portage woman would have been 27-years-old

WINNIPEG - On July 28 Amber McFarland would have celebrated her birthday alongside her identical twin sister Ashley. The Portage woman, who vanished three years ago, on Oct. 18, would have been 27-years-old.

“It’s a tough day for her twin sister and we all just wanted to be there for her,” said Lori McFarland, Amber’s mom, who took the day off from work to be with her family.

Last year on Amber’s birthday, the McFarlands remembered their missing daughter and sister by plastering missing posters of her all over the city. These posters of a smiling Amber in the teal mock-neck shirt have become a fixture in many shop windows and bulletin boards around Portage.

This year, since most of the posters are still intact and in good condition, the McFarlands opted to spend the day together quietly, focusing on Amber’s twin sister Ashley, who has an especially difficult time when this day rolls around.

“Any family that’s lost a loved one, those days are memorable. You remember those birthdays and those special days and that person’s on your mind,” Lori said. “In our case we just don’t know what to think, like where she is or what happened to her.”

Lori said she believes that there are people in Portage who know something about her daughter’s disappearance. Her hope is that those people come forward with the information they have, even if they feel it isn’t important.

“They might not know everything, but they know enough to make a difference — any little detail could make a difference, and if they have some information, they should be coming forward with it,” she said.

“While she’s missing someone is going about their life scot-free, walking freely among us. Walking freely among girls from other families. It should still be very much on everybody’s mind that there is a perpetrator that’s just left to go about his business.”

Lori maintains that Amber’s case will be solved one day, she just hopes that it happens when the family is all around and together to support one another.

Vibrant and caring

“I just hope it’s not before both parents are dead and there’s not just one lone sibling to take the news,” she said. “You know, like many years from now.”

Amber, as her family remembers her, was a vibrant and caring woman with a free spirit, who spoke her mind and always stuck up for the downtrodden. She had a flare for fashion and design, and was dreamy about one day having a career as an interior designer.

At the time of her disappearance, Amber worked at Mark’s Work Wearhouse and was about to start a second part-time job at Tavern United, located in the Canad Inns Hotel on Saskatchewan Avenue.

“She showed a lot of potential, that girl. She had a big heart and a lot of ambition,” Lori said.

Amber was last seen leaving the Cat and the Fiddle Nite Club on Oct. 18, 2008. Surveillance video from the vendor at the Midtown Motor Inn showed Amber buying beer with two men, before reportedly leaving with an ex-boyfriend.

Car found in parking lot

Amber’s car was found in the Canad Inns parking lot, where she had left it the night before. Her purse and cellphone have never been located.

Anybody with any information about Amber McFarland’s disappearance are asked to call the Portage la Prairie RCMP at 204-857-4445 or Manitoba Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS

“I think she’s just waiting; she’s just waiting for somebody to find her, somebody to come forward. She’s just patiently waiting,” said Lori. “That’s what I feel.”

NOTE: A story I wrote for the Portage Daily Graphic.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

MISSING: Dezeraja Smoljanovich

Dezeraia Smoljanovich, 16, of Grand Marais has been missing since the afternoon of April 28, 2011. Police believe the teen is with Jonathan Clark, 32, Smoljanovich's boyfriend and former teacher.

The RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating a 16-year-old Grand Marais girl who is believed to have run off with her former high school teacher.

Police said Dezeraja Smoljanovich, 16, has not been seen since the afternoon of April 28 at her home in Grand Marais.

Police said they believe she is with Jonathan Clark, 32, of Ile des Chenes, who is described as Smoljanovich’s recent boyfriend and teacher.

It’s believed the two are heading to Vancouver.

Smoljanovich is described as 5-6, 100 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes with a birthmark on her forehead.

Clark may be using the name "Mike" Clark. He is described as 5-10 to 6-feet tall, has a thin build, weighs 150 lbs, and has brown hair and brown eyes.

Police said the two people might be travelling in a grey, 2005 Honda Accord, with a Manitoba licence plate FJB 398.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the RCMP Selkirk detachment, 204-482-1222, their local police, or Manitoba Crime Stoppers, 1-800-222-8477


Police arrest teacher (05/05/11)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Happy 24th Birthday Sunshine Wood

I got an email from a friend of mine who works for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The subject of the email said: "SUNSHINE WOOD'S BIRTHDAY - April 6, 2011"

When I opened the email, there was a brief account of Wood's case, accompanied by a few photos:

Sunshine Wood known as ‘SUNNY’, is a 16-year-old female who has been missing since Friday, February 20th, 2004. Wood was last seen at approximately 11:45 p.m. in front of the St. Regis Hotel, 285 Smith St. in Winnipeg. She was last seen standing amongst a number of hotel patrons in front of the hotel.

Sunshine came to Winnipeg in September 2003 from God’s River, Manitoba, to attend school and at the time of her disappearance was enrolled at Gordon Bell High School. She is not a chronic runaway and her disappearance is uncharacteristic, however, she is street smart and has a number of friends and acquaintances in the downtown area.

Sunshine is described as aboriginal in appearance, 5’7”, 220 lbs., with shoulder length brown hair and brown eyes. She has letters tattooed on all fingers of her left hand. At the time of her disappearance she was wearing a dark coloured ‘Exco’ sweatshirt, blue jeans and black boots.

The Winnipeg Police Service is asking for the public’s assistance in locating Sunshine Wood. The two photos attached were obtained from video footage shortly before her disappearance. Police are looking for information that would identify the male in the picture with Sunshine Wood. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Winnipeg Police Service Long Term Missing Person Task Force at 986-3338 or Crimestoppers at 786-8477.