RCMP and social worker searched mother's home without her knowledge

'I just felt instantly violated'

When Lauren Marchand found out that an RCMP officer and a social worker had banged on her door, entered her home and searched it — without her knowledge or consent — she started crying.

“I just felt instantly violated,” says Marchand, a Syilx member of the Okanagan Indian Band.

It was Sept. 29, 2020, and police had received a tip from someone who alleged that Marchand was cooking methamphetamine in the home she shares with her daughter, who was five at the time.

They live in an affordable housing complex run by Vernon Native Housing Society in Vernon, where Marchand works as an early childhood educator.

Jenny Duncan, a social worker with B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, says police asked the social worker to meet them at Marchand’s home. There had already been three “meth-related concerns” at the complex, according to her report, so “police and MCFD felt it was appropriate to act immediately.”

After getting a call from police, Duncan reached out to OKIB and asked Jane Barren, a child and family advocate for the band, to join them. The trio knocked on Marchand’s door. When no one answered, they entered and searched her home, finding no evidence of a meth lab. Duncan didn’t tell Marchand they’d been in her home until nearly a month later.

Marchand told IndigiNews that she wants it documented in MCFD’s files that the social worker made a mistake and apologized for it.

This wasn’t the first time social workers became involved in Marchand’s life. In early 2016, just after her first birthday, her daughter Brooklyn was diagnosed with leukemia. The family had to move from the Okanagan to Vancouver so she could be cared for at the BC Children’s Hospital, says Marchand. For nearly three years they moved back and forth.

Meanwhile, Marchand says she was dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety.

Returning to the Okanagan to get some counselling and “recharge,” Marchand asked her sister to step in. Her sister had to stop working in order to care for Brooklyn, so they accessed financial support through MCFD’s Extended Family Program — which “provides support for situations when it’s best for a child or teen to live with a relative or close family friend when their parents are temporarily unable to care for them.”

After a couple months of self-care, Marchand says she returned to Vancouver to relieve her sister and resume full-time parenting. But social workers didn’t close her file, issuing a supervision order. According to notes in Marchand’s file, social workers were concerned about her mental health, her “co-dependency issues,” and her on and off relationship with Brooklyn’s father, as they had concerns about his ability to parent.

Finally, in June 2018, social workers closed her file. “Lauren has addressed all MCFD’s concerns and is solely caring for her child Brooklyn. Lauren and [Brooklyn’s father] are no longer in a relationship,” they wrote. “There are no protection concerns regarding Lauren’s ability to care for Brooklyn … Case is now closed.”

After her daughter’s successful chemotherapy treatments, Marchand and Brooklyn moved home.

In short order, Marchand says she finished school, got her Early Childhood Education certificate and licence, and secured a job at a daycare. In May 2020, she and Brooklyn moved into a housing complex managed by VNHS.

Fast forward several months to October — when, according to Marchand, the housing manager said a social worker had come around looking for her. Marchand says she called MCFD and left a couple messages before hearing back from social worker Jenny Duncan on Oct. 14.

“Apparently there was a report made on me that I was running a ‘full-blown meth lab,’ and that I was a drug lord. I’m not even going to lie, as soon as she told me that I burst out laughing,” Marchand says.

She arranged to meet with Duncan in person on Oct. 21, so they could clear things up. Jane Barren, the OKIB advocate, was invited to join them. It was at this meeting that Marchand first learned that Duncan and an RCMP officer had been inside her home on Sept. 29.

Duncan told her that she and Barren had met the constable at the housing complex, and the building manager had given them a key to Marchand’s place.

The constable then entered Marchand’s home, repeatedly calling out her name and announcing the police presence. Duncan later noted: “house is very clean, some toys laying out, a few dishes left out, no smells (mold, gas, drugs), no signs of drug paraphernalia, no bongs, lights, pipes, tin foil, needles.”

“Police were satisfied with the condition of the home and everyone left,” she wrote in her report. There was “no meth lab” in Marchand’s home and “no signs that [she] is unsafe.”

Duncan concluded that the call about the supposed meth lab was likely “malicious.”

“My biggest concern with it … was how they came in,” she says. “Because my daughter had leukemia, her development is delayed — after all the treatments and everything.”

“My fear is that if they come in my unit … and if she were to hop out, there’s armed officers that are preparing themselves to enter a meth lab … [and] a little girl who doesn’t have the capacity to understand what’s going on.”

“I don’t want [Brooklyn] normalizing MCFD’s and RCMP’s presence in my life,” says Marchand. “I just don’t want them anywhere near her anymore.”

– Read more about Marchand's story on Indiginews

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