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Quebec judge issues landmark decisions on Indigenous child rights

BY Myriam Boivin-Neashit Jul 3, 2024

Quebec Court Judge Peggy Warolin recently delivered two pivotal decisions that highlight systemic shortcomings in the care and protection of Indigenous youth, echoing the findings of the 2019 Viens Commission.

The first of the decisions – rendered last November but only made public this month – involved a 16-year-old Inuk girl who experienced an astonishing 64 foster placements and 14 emergency placements in less than 10 years. Placed in various facilities, including rehabilitation centres, the teen faced repeated transfers that worsened her trauma and cultural disconnection.

According to the court’s findings, one move violated multiple provisions of the Youth Protection Act. This transfer failed to provide culturally appropriate measures and did not adequately involve the teen in decision-making processes regarding her care.

Subsequently, the girl was moved to a unit for Inuit teenagers, which suddenly exposed her to her cultural background without adequate preparation, causing significant emotional distress. However, she acclimated and showed improvement in this unit. Then she was abruptly moved to a different centre with teens who were not Indigenous. This change was especially challenging for the girl.

This oversight in the planning and execution of her care reflects a broader systemic issue within Quebec’s youth protection system: Indigenous children often face multiple placements and insufficient support to maintain their cultural identity and emotional well-being. 

“In my experience, I felt I lived between two different worlds, and yet didn’t fit into any of them,” shared Dez Gregoire, a former foster child and current coordinator of Camp Thrive with the Tasiutigiit Association. She said that growing up, she was deprived access to her Innu culture, language, and visits to her community.

Judge Warolin’s decisions underline the need for a comprehensive review of Quebec’s youth protection laws and practices. The court highlighted the importance of respecting children’s rights under the Youth Protection Act, the Civil Code of Quebec, and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The second decision addressed broader issues raised by previous reports, such as the Viens Commission, which investigated the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Quebec’s public services. The commission identified systemic discrimination and called for reforms to improve services provided to Indigenous communities in the health, justice, education and youth protection sectors. 

Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant said the government is collaborating with Indigenous authorities but pointed to the complexity and time required to implement solutions. “The First Nations and Inuit are the best people to take care of their kids,” Carmant stated.

Gregoire, who advocates for Indigenous youth in foster care, stressed that youth belong to a community. “The most critical need is connecting foster families and youth to resources in the Indigenous community,” she insisted.

Judge Warolin’s ruling was equally clear on this issue. “It is clear that almost five years later, the problem of lack of resources decried by the Honorable Jacques Viens has not been resolved,” she stated. 

Gregoire is part of a broader effort advocating for the rights and well-being of Indigenous youth. Initiatives like Camp Thrive aim to provide culturally safe environments and support for Indigenous youth in foster care.

“There’s hope,” Gregoire noted. “I haven’t seen a great change or improvement over the years in how youth protection services are provided to Indigenous children, but I do see that more youth protection workers want to see their Indigenous children do well and get the services they need. There are more partnerships with the urban Indigenous community, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

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