It has been almost two decades since Erica Levene last saw her older sister, June Grant.
Separated from the family that includes their ailing mother, Levene has been desperately seeking to reconnect with her developmentally disabled sibling who was taken away from the family home in the 1980s.
Levene said she and her 78-year-old mother – Joyce Levene – last saw Grant around Christmas 1995.
Knowing that she’s alive and residing in the Toronto Area is no consolation for Levene, who said the nightmare started in the 1980s when Grant was taken away by Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) and placed in a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Born in Jamaica in 1958, Grant – who has a learning disability – joined her mother and younger sister in Canada in the mid-1970s.
“We were living as a family in the Jane & Falstaff community when my sister was suddenly taken away from us by adult protective service workers,” said Levene. “They told my mom she wouldn’t be coming back home. That had to be done on the recommendation of a social service worker who visited our home at the time and I absolutely blame her because she had no right to break up our family. If there was a problem in our home, how come I was not taken away also?”
Frequent calls to various social service agencies in the city have failed to provide relief for Levene.
“In 2006, I contacted the Salvation Army family tracing department and someone there told us they located my sister but she doesn’t want to have any contact with me or my mother,” she said. “They only thing they said they could tell us is that she’s alive and doing well. They couldn’t tell me anything else.”
Levene said she and her sister enjoyed a healthy relationship before the separation.
“I remember having lots of fun with her,” said the Canadian-born actress and entrepreneur. “Even though she has a disability, she was open and expressive.”
Earlier this year, Levene hired a private investigator, who contacted DSO.
“They didn’t return the investigator’s calls or e-mails,” said Levene. “At this point, I am very angry and pissed off. I find it hard to believe that my sister would not want to see me and our mother. As a developmentally challenged person, she’s very vulnerable and I believe she has been forced to do things against her will. My mom has been robbed of a daughter and I of a sister.”
Levene doesn’t intend to give up the search.
“Our mother is in hospital with heart problems and I know her ailment has a lot to do with her not seeing her daughter in over 20 years,” she said. “It’s tearing her up and it breaks my heart to see my mom suffer the way she is. It’s just not fair to her. She came to this country, worked hard and brought her daughter here and this is what she gets in return. That’s not right.”
Levene has stepped up the search for her sister after a recent Toronto Star investigation revealed that the province’s most vulnerable children are in the care of a child protection system that’s often unaccountable and secretive.
The probe revealed that 41 per cent of children and young people in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are Black, though only 8.2 per cent of the city’s population under the age of 18 is Black.
Ontario’s Minister of Children & Youth Services, Tracy MacCharles, is considering a province-wide count of the Black kids in child care to determine the extent of the challenge.
“I am not going to rest until I find my sister,” said Levene. “I am not sure if she lives in a group home for adults over the age of 50 or if she is living on her own. “I know she lives in Toronto and I will find her.”