Oyate Safe House

Issue

On February 28, 2006, the CBC television network aired a report alleging that the Oyate Safe House in Regina, Saskatchewan, did not follow procedures designed to protect children in its care from sexual exploitation and that the Government of Saskatchewan was aware of the concerns and did not take corrective action. The report also alleged that the Department of Community Resources (now Ministry of Social Services) was not meeting its obligation to ensure that the facility was achieving its mandated goals with the provincial funding provided to it.

Background

A Special Committee to Prevent the Abuse and Exploitation of Children through the Sex Trade was created in December 1999 to address the unacceptable prevalence of sexual exploitation of children in Saskatchewan cities and rural areas. The Special Committee's final report (June 2001) contained 49 recommendations grouped into four categories:

  • deterring offenders;
  • protective services for children and youth;
  • root causes; and
  • prevention/early intervention.

The Special Committee recommended a voluntary safe house program as an important transition for children to exit the street. They saw a need for a safe house providing emergency assessment, counseling and appropriate treatment referrals in a safe and nurturing environment. A stay of one to two months was expected to provide an opportunity to assess the child’s needs and institute an intensive case plan.

Following the issuance of a request for proposals to operate such a safe house in Regina, the Department of Community Resources entered into and renewed subsequent service agreements between 2003 and 2008 with Oyate ataya WaKanyeja OwicaKiyapi Inc. Oyate was established by the First Nations of the Touchwood Agency and the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Councils and a separate Board of Directors was created to provide governance to the Oyate safe house.

In May 2004, the Department of Community Resources suspended referrals to the Oyate Safe House for seven days as a result of concerns regarding quality of care. There was no indication that corrective action was taken to overcome those concerns; however, placement of children resumed following the seven day suspension.

On March 1, 2006, the Government of Saskatchewan requested that the Children's Advocate and Provincial Auditor investigate the allegations concerning the safety and well-being of children housed at the Oyate Safe House.

Operations were again suspended on April 13, 2006, this time voluntarily by the Board of Directors of Oyate pending the outcome of the investigations conducted by the Children’s Advocate Office and the Provincial Auditor.

The Reports

On September 14, 2006, Saskatchewan’s Children’s Advocate, Marvin Bernstein, tabled two reports following his Office’s investigation into the Oyate Safe House for sexually exploited children in Regina. The first investigation report addressed the Oyate Safe House and its operation specifically, while the second, entitled Beyond ‘at risk’ Children: Systemic Issues Report regarding Sexually Exploited Chidlren and the Oyate Safe House, made recommendations to address the broader issue of sexual exploitation of children in Saskatchewan.

Department of Community Resources and Oyate Safe House Response

On September 14, 2006, the Minister of Community Resources, Hon. Buckley Belanger, FSIN Chief Alphonse Bird and the Oyate Board Chair, Chief Marie Anne DayWalker-Pelletier held a joint media conference to address the issues raised in the Children's Advocate Office's reports. There, the Minister announced a new director for Oyate that would continue "a strong partnership with First Nations in the area of sexually exploited children and youth," and Chief DayWalker-Pelletier indicated that, "These children are front and centre for us....That is why we are here, for these children."

Read the media release and media backgrounder.

Progress Reporting

The Children’s Advocate Office committed to ongoing advocacy and tracking of the Department of Community Resources acceptance and compliance with the recommendations contained in the reports.

In our 2007 Annual Report, we indicated that the Ministry of Social Services and the Oyate Board provided final policy to the Office to meet the intent of all of the recommendations made in the investigation report into the operations of the Oyate Safe House with the exception of a recommendation to include the involvement of experiential youth on the Board of the Safe House.

Of the 12 systemic recommendations made in the second report, Beyond 'at Risk' Children, nine remain active today awaiting legislative or policy changes by the Government of Saskatchewan and/or Ministry of Social Services. The Children's Advocate Office continues to advocate and track these recommendations and has reaffirmed their importance in its submission to the 2010 Child Welfare Review Panel.

The Oyate Safe House never reopened its doors to clients after its closure in April 2006. On March 6, 2008, the Ministry of Social Services announced that the Government of Saskatchewan would not be entering into a 2008-09 Contract for Services with Oyate ataya WaKanyeja OwicaKiyapi.

Read the media release.