Nick Lang’s Story: The tragic and preventable death of a teen in government care

Parents drop lawsuit against provincial government to focus on making positive changes

Part two in a two-part series on a Chilliwack family’s response to the death of their 15-year-old.

• Read Part 1 of Nick Lang’s Story

Peter Lang and Linda TenPas have endured every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child.

And if that tragedy was not enough, add to it that 15-year-old Nick Lang’s death was entirely preventable.

When the young teen’s marijuana use elevated to crystal meth, things got really bad, culminating in Nick assaulting his mother.

Hoping to find treatment for their son via the justice system and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), the Chilliwack parents had to “criminalize” their own son, as Linda puts it, to seek help.

Instead of getting supervision and help, an allegedly incompetent probation officer did not inform a foster family of Nick’s history of self-harm. Five days into the stay with the family, the teen was left alone and found dead in a closet on June 9, 2015.

Blaming ministry incompetence, Peter and Linda filed a lawsuit against the provincial government and demanded an inquiry.

Months and now years dragged on, but after the last provincial election that saw the BC Liberals defeated by the new NDP-Green coalition, the couple saw some change and recently decided to drop the civil suit.

“This lawsuit was because the [BC] Liberals at the time, they wouldn’t talk to us,” Peter says. “The minister wouldn’t even say Nick’s name. We waited for months and months for them to reach out to us, to say ‘we are going to fix this or that.’ The only way to get these guys to change things is to toss them money because the only thing they value is money.”

Linda reiterates that.

“It was really against the actions of the government of the day. They wouldn’t say Nick’s name, they wouldn’t engage with us at all.”

Indeed, that was Linda’s approach to the local MLAs when she confronted them on the campaign trail last year. She said the Christy Clark government continued to say the economy needed to be stronger before additional services could be paid for.

“What was the cost of my son’s life?” she asked John Martin and Laurie Throness.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack mother of teen who died in care confronts BC Liberal election candidates

And while the two local MLAs won back their seats, the provincial government changed and quickly Peter and Linda started to see changes, if modest ones.

“Right after the NDP and Green formed [government] we got the minister’s assistant to talk to us as well as Bernard Richard, the Representative for Children and Youth.

“I’ve got friends that work on the inside who said that because of Nick’s case, this changed or that changed,” Peter said, giving an example of a detox program in Williams Lake that was on the “want” list for years and has now been started.

So Peter and Linda recently decided to drop the lawsuit against a government that was led by the BC Liberals, although neither are NDP cheerleaders.

“It’s not even close to where I want to see it, but at least we are seeing some movement there,” Linda said, adding she feels like her energies can be better used fighting for youth in other ways.

“Even though we are dropping the lawsuit, I’m going to make sure we hold them accountable,” she says. “I’m certainly not going to disappear. I’ll be in their face even more.”

“I’m still not convinced they are doing their job,” Peter says.

Since The Progress first interviewed Peter and then Linda, the two were invited to attend a meeting of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth in Vancouver.

Speaking at the committee was B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard and representatives from all three parties, committee chair Nicholas Simons of the NDP, Sonia Furstenau of the Greens, and, coincidentally, committee member and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.

“I want to give you my condolences as well,” Throness said to Peter Lang at the meeting. “I did that once in a public meeting in a very inadequate way, and I want to apologize if that has added to your sense of loss.”

The latter reference to the election meeting when Throness was confronted by Linda about Nick’s death and her perceived inaction on the part of the government.

“As I read the report, I was struck with the heroic nature of Peter and Linda striving for their child and never giving up and doing all they could with the system in order to give him the best chance. You’ve been through a lot, a great deal,” Throness said.

After that, Throness invited them to meet up at a later date.

Overlooked in all of this saga for Peter is that he is Métis, and Nick was interested in that Indigenous heritage at times, and it was grossly overlooked by the ministry and particularly by the probation officer who Peter and Linda blame for much of what went wrong.

The issue of Indigenous heritage was addressed directly by Richard at the children and youth committee meeting on Jan. 26, in a way Peter has expressed in the past he hopes will lead to changes down the road.

“So 10 per cent of our staff are Indigenous,” Richard told the committee. “But 65 per cent of our clients, to put it that way — children and families — are Indigenous. So we need to be more reflective of that. I think ministries like Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and MCFD should be much more robust in recruiting Indigenous staff at the higher levels.”

As for Peter and Linda, they just hope Nick didn’t die in vain and young people struggling with mental health issues and addictions issues can be helped, wherever and whoever they are.

• Read Part 1 of Nick Lang’s Story


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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