Nick Lang’s parents Linda TenPas and Peter Lang with photos of their son who died in government care. The two launched a lawsuit against the provincial government but have since dropped it. (Greg Laychak/ The Progress)

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

Chilliwack parents drop lawsuit against provincial government to focus on making positive changes

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

Nick Lang started smoking marijuana in his early teens as many young people do.

Middle class, fun-loving, the blond-haired blue-eyed Lang became captivated by the increasingly pervasive cannabis culture, something that did not go unnoticed by his parents.

But when smoking weed elevated to crystal methamphetamine use, young Nick became harder and harder to control for his father Peter Lang and his mother Linda TenPas.

Then came the day when everything changed in a way that should have – or at least could have – been for the better for the 15-year-old and his family.

Instead it led to Nick’s death in government care.

Peter and Linda are separated, and on March 31, 2015, Linda tried to get her son’s drug use and bad behaviour under control.

“He assaulted his mom while he was at her house,” Peter explains. “She had taken his cellphone from him.”

Peter and Linda had struggled for months to find some sort of help for their son with no success.

Through their employment the two are familiar with the criminal justice system and how adults are treated and get treatment. Peter is the deputy warden at a federal, minimum security, aboriginal-focused prison, the Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village, and Linda is an executive assistant to the warden at Kent Institution.

But getting treatment or social service help for Nick was increasingly futile. Then came the assault by Nick on his mother and a call to police. They quickly realized that, maybe, the only real opportunity for help for Nick was if he pleaded guilty and was taken into government care.

“I had to criminalize my 15-year-old child to get him help,” was how Linda put it when she confronted former Chilliwack MLA John Martin and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness at an election campaign meeting at Chilliwack secondary school on April 25, 2017.

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

No continuity of care

Peter says after the assault and the guilty plea, as someone who works in corrections, it was confusing to be dealing with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) rather than the justice system.

Nick was put in his father’s care for a 60-day period but still, Peter couldn’t find the resources needed anywhere in the Fraser Valley to help him get drug treatment.

“He was really regretful for what he did, what he had done to his mom,” Peter says. “He did want to change.”

Originally from Campbell River, Peter looked there and found Nick a foster home through the Headstart program run by the John Howard Society of North Island. In early June 2015, Nick was sent to a family screened by the program in Campbell River.

What happened next, according to Peter was not the family’s fault or even the Headstart program, which he still lauds as positive. No, it was the negligence of the probation officer, according to Peter.

Right before leaving, Nick had relapsed and Peter wanted to drive him to the island but the probation officer said, no, he had to fly. Since following the officer’s directions was a condition of probation, Peter had no choice but to accede. The family in Campbell River was ready to foster, but they were never told by the probation officer of Nick’s history of self-harm.

And Peter and Linda were told not to contact Nick.

“They put him on a plane and told us we weren’t allowed to talk to him for at least five days until he settled in,” Peter says. “We weren’t allowed the phone number.”

They couldn’t call him but of course Nick had their phone number, and Linda said he left her a number of “distressing messages” in those first few days, messages from a troubled son hundreds of kilometres away that she had to ignore.

Then one day as the family he was living with were preparing to go out to dinner, Nick took a shoelace, wrapped it around a rod in a closet and his neck and spun himself around.

He died.

And it may sound like a suicide – and it might have been – it was never definitively determined to be so and Peter actually thinks the drug-addled teen did not die at his own hand intentionally.

“I believe he was trying to get a rush,” Peter says, adding that he doesn’t blame the foster family who was not given all the information on Nick they needed to properly foster him.

“We don’t have any hard feeling towards them. They didn’t do anything wrong and they were dealing with the information they had at the time.”

Regrettable government response

Horrified at the death of their son in government care, Peter and Linda reached out to their MLAs and MCFD for answers.

Recent migrants to Chilliwack in 2014 from Hope, the two lived in both the local MLAs ridings and were amazed at the lack of response they received not just locally but from the various ministries involved as well.

“We lived in both ridings,” Peter says. “Never did they reach out. It’s like they were afraid of me. If I was an MLA and this happened under my government, I would contact the family to ask, ‘what can I do?’”

So Peter and Linda launched a lawsuit against the B.C. government.

In recent days, and under the new government in B.C. who Nick’s parents say are making changes, if not fast enough, they decided to drop the lawsuit and redirect their efforts towards making sure what happened to Nick doesn’t happen to another child in care.

• For part two of this story see here: Nick Lang’s Story – Part 2


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Around $3,500 raised at Eclectica concert

‘We got a standing ovation at the end and that is always a good sign’

Lake access after court case

The weekly editorial for the 100 Mile Free Press

100 Mile literacy program wraps up

Hopes for weekly drop-in next year

Several power outages reported in Cariboo Chilcotin as strong winds persist

More than 1,400 without power, hydro crews enroute

Simkins donate $1,000 to hospice

Judy and Dave Simkins, of Lifecycle Financial, presented bereavement co-ordinator Sarah Smith… Continue reading

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

B.C. fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

‘I practically begged’: Kootenay woman with breast cancer denied referral to Calgary

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force

There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare train station, where police in riot gear checked bags

ICBC to apply for 6.3% hike to basic insurance rates

Crown Corporation said it will be submitting its next basic rate application to the British Columbia Utilities Commission Friday

Canfor Corp. extending temporary curtailment of sawmills in B.C.; cutting hours

Vancouver-based company says the decision is due to declining lumber prices, high log costs and log supply constraints

Canada’s prospective world junior team members await final roster decisions

Thirty-four players were invited to the national junior selection camp

Most Read