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Child Welfare (1-5)

Judge slams Quebec youth protection after Inuk teen placed in 64 different foster homes

May 23, 2024

Ruling says systemic discrimination deprived teenager of her cultural identity

A person sits on a bench.
Quebec Court Judge Peggy Warolin has issued two decisions in the last month highly critical of Quebec’s department of youth protection. She ordered copies of both decisions be sent to provincial ministers. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: A Quebec court judge has issued a scathing decision identifying major long-standing problems in youth protection services for Inuit children in Quebec’s North, in a case where a teenage girl was sent to 64 different foster homes in less than 10 years.

For most of that time, the teen was placed in foster homes and rehabilitation centres in the South because of a shortage of services in the North.

In a decision April 24, Quebec Court Judge Peggy Warolin ruled the teen — who can’t be identified due to youth protection laws — “was thus deprived of her right to the preservation of her cultural identity.”

No other group of adolescents in need of rehabilitation services must submit to placement so far from their original environment.- Quebec Court Judge Peggy Warolin

“The child had been so cut off from her culture that she found herself in a very advanced process of assimilation,” Warolin said.

It’s one of two decisions recently issued by Warolin that she insisted be forwarded directly to the provincial ministers responsible for social services and relations with First Nations and Inuit.

Warolin noted that the circumstances in this case were not unique — and are in fact common for Inuit teens in youth protection.

“No other group of adolescents in need of rehabilitation services must submit to placement so far from their original environment,” Warolin said in the decision, concluding that such practices amount to systemic discrimination.

Teen moved against advice of doctors

According to the decision the teenager, now 16, has been in youth protection since she was five. Her family life is unstable, and she’s been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumautic stress disorder.

Initially she was placed in foster families within her community, but then was relocated to dozens of different foster families and rehab centres in the South.

The girl was doing better after being placed at a rehab centre in Montreal in 2021 where all the children housed there spoke Inuktitut.

But after five months she was transferred, against the wishes of her doctors, to another rehab centre with no connections to her culture.

Warolin’s ruling says that never should have happened, and that distancing the girl from her culture contributed to her distress.

Warolin attributed the girls’ situation in part to territorial battles between the provincial Department of Youth Protection and local health authorities in Nunavik, the region encompassing Quebec’s Far North.

Her decision urges a clarification of the roles of both parties.

Judge says little has changed since Viens Commission

Since that decision was issued, Warolin issued another decision May 1 that she also ordered be sent to provincial ministers.

That decision concerned another Inuk girl, aged 13, who’d been in foster care since age six.

In 2023, the girl started having serious behavioural problems and the foster family struggled to care for her.

At that time, the court ordered the girl be placed immediately in a rehabilitation centre.

It took more than a month to find her a spot because of a shortage of places.

During that month, the girl’s situation deteriorated. The judgment notes she stole two ATVs, and that a social worker was concerned the girl was putting herself at risk in the context of her relationship with an adult man.

Once again in her decision, Warolin condemned the lack of services in the North, this time citing the 2019 Viens Commission report into the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec.

Warolin said that report identified a serious shortage of places in youth rehabilitation centres in the North.

Jacques Viens is a retired Quebec superior court justice who is presiding over the commission.
In a 2019 report retired judge Jacques Viens recommended the government increase the number of places in youth rehabilitation centres in the North. Warolin’s decision said five years later this issue has not been resolved. (Jean-François Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)

“It is therefore clear that almost five years later, the problem of lack of resources decried by the Honorable Jacques Viens has not been resolved,” Warolin said.

She noted that during this time the need for services has only continued to grow.

“The situation we are witnessing today is all the more dramatic. Without a serious desire to resolve the problem in a lasting manner, we can only anticipate a multiplication of cases similar to this one,” Warolin said.

Quebec’s Human Rights Commission issued a report last week on youth protection services in Nunavik that echoed Warolin’s conclusion.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” commission head Philippe-André Tessier told CBC News in an interview Thursday.

“Systemic issues about lack of appropriate housing, the fact that there is no appropriate rehabilitation centre, these are things that are known, that are reported, that we’ve made recommendations about,” Tessier said.