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Indigenous groups call out Quebec’s objections to federal youth act

BY Ben Powless Oct 9, 2021

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) is questioning Quebec’s decision to challenge Ottawa to prevent a new federal framework for Indigenous youth and children from coming into place.

The legislation, Bill C-92, titled An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, was passed in 2019 after decades of criticism on how the federal government treated Indigenous children and youth in care, as a response to a number of recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The changes were set to come into effect January 1, 2020. They return the right of jurisdiction over child and family services to Indigenous communities, while establishing national principles that the government claimed were meant to bring the act in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

However, Quebec has challenged the constitutional validity of Bill C-92, arguing in court that youth protection falls under provincial authority. They are opposing the federal government in the Court of Appeal of Quebec, alongside the AFNQL, the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, the Makivik Corporation, the Assembly of First Nations, the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation of Canada, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

“Quebec chooses to defend what it refers to as its ‘jurisdiction’ to the detriment of the capacity of the First Nations to manage their own services for their children and families. The impacts of the Indigenous residential school tragedy persist. Even the Legault government denounces them,” AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said in a release.

“Have the lessons of history been properly understood? We can and must pose this question to the Legault government if we want to prevent history from repeating itself. We need to be more concerned with the legacy we will leave behind.”

The AFNQL says that instead of the federal act, Indigenous groups should enforce their own laws with regards to services for Indigenous children and families. Quebec insists on imposing the Youth Protection Act, originally passed in 1984, that does not see First Nations as equal partners and only delegates them limited responsibilities. The AFNQL and other groups were in court in September to argue their side of the case. 

In response to the court case, Mathieu Durocher, spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, stated, “We all agree that First Nations and Inuit must have more autonomy in the field of youth protection. The Laurent Commission also confirmed it. Ministers Ian Lafrenière and Lionel Carmant [responsible for youth protection] are committed to working with Indigenous representatives in order to find ways to give them more autonomy and control over the protection of their children.”

Durocher added that the Quebec government agrees youth protection services need to be reformed and will require legislative changes. 

The Laurent Commission was a two-year commission that concluded this past May, looking into Quebec’s child welfare system that has faced decades of criticism. It concluded that Indigenous youth do not have a voice or watchdog looking out for their rights and best interests, and that Indigenous youth were taken often out of their communities, cut off from their culture, suffering a loss of identity and worsening physical, mental and spiritual health.

In 2020, a class action lawsuit was launched against Quebec by individuals who were part of Quebec’s child welfare system, alleging decades of abuse, solitary confinement and unnecessary medication – the suit is seeking $500,000 per individual.

by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.