WARNING: This story contains details of violence and child abuse.
The father of Dontay Lucas, a six-year-old Indigenous boy who was killed in Port Alberni in 2018, says he is grateful British Columbia Premier David Eby has promised to get answers about his son's tragic case.
"I feel quite happy about the words that [Eby] expressed," said Patrick Lucas. "It really touched my heart, the premier saying what he said about getting answers."
Lucas said he's hoping for a public inquiry to find out why the child protection system failed Dontay. He said the boy had complained of abuse and neglect to teachers at his Port Alberni school in the weeks before he was killed.
The father has launched a petition demanding a thorough investigation into Dontay's death, asking that "those who failed him be held accountable."
The Indigenous boy died from blunt force trauma to the brain four months after Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family & Child Services, a delegated Aboriginal agency of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), put him in the care of his mother and stepfather.
The couple, Rykel Frank (née Charleson) and Mitchell Frank, were originally charged with first-degree murder four years after the death. Two months ago they pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and remain in custody, and are scheduled to be sentenced in May.
Eby stopped short of committing to a public inquiry but said the government "will bring all the tools to the table."
"For Dontay's case, we will ensure that British Columbians get the answers they need, and in particular, that we get the information we need to prevent any similar deaths from taking place."
In an emailed statement, MCFD said it would welcome any investigation by outside agencies.
Dontay Lucas with father Patrick Lucas. (Submitted by Patrick Lucas)
"As the Premier said, the family and British Columbians deserve answers. We'll continue to look at what options are available to provide those answers."
B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth said in an email that a "comprehensive review" of Dontay's case was shared with MCFD and Usma in 2021, but that criminal proceedings have prevented it from investigating further.
The review was not made public.
"We are currently investigating the life and death of a young boy in the Chilliwack area and as we are conducting this investigation we are focusing on where and how the facts of Dontay's case intersect or differ to determine how and where the system needs to be strengthened," wrote Jennifer Charlesworth.
The Chilliwack death referenced is the awful case of an 11-year-old Indigenous boy who was tortured, starved and killed by his Indigenous foster parents in 2021.
In June 2023, the man and woman were sentenced to 10 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and manslaughter of the boy, and the aggravated assault of his eight-year-old sister.
The court heard the children's ministry failed to follow its own guidelines for child protection and that social workers had last visited the couple's home seven months before the boy was beaten to death.
The Chilliwack case sparked calls from First Nations leaders for a complete overhaul of the foster system, along withdemands for the resignation of the children's minister at the time, Mitzi Dean.
Eby removed Dean from the post earlier this week and named Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Grace Lore as the new children's minister.
Lucas said Dontay was put in government care when he was born. He claims Usma didn't investigate whether placing the boy and two siblings with the mother and stepfather was safe for the children.
MCFD published an audit of Usma in 2019, one year after Dontay's death. It said problems at the agency included high staff turnover and long-term staff vacancies.
The audit looked at child case records and found the agency had a one per cent compliance rate when it came to social workers meeting with a child in care.
"Documentation of the social workers' private contacts with children/youth in care met the standard in 1 of the 77 records. Of the 76 records rated not achieved, 12 did not have confirmations that the children and youth had visits of any kind with their social workers," said the audit.
Usma's overall compliance rate with child service standards was 56 per cent, according to the audit.
CBC reached out to Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers but did not hear back.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is a not-for-profit society that oversees Usma and provides services and supports to 14 First Nations on Vancouver Island, and has approximately 10,000 members.