Application filed to launch class action law suit for underfunding of child welfare in Nunavik, Quebec

The suit filed this week alleges decades of “discriminatory and unlawful underfunding of child welfare and other essential services for the Inuit in Nunavik” by the Government of Canada and the provincial government of Quebec. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

An application for authorization of a class action lawsuit on behalf of Inuit children in Nunavik was filed this week in the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal.

The suit claims decades of “discriminatory and unlawful underfunding of child welfare and other essential services for the Inuit in Nunavik” by the Government of Canada and the provincial government of Quebec. 

Nunavik is the Inuit region of northern Quebec, and both the federal and provincial governments have shared responsibility there since the The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed in 1975.

The suit was filed on Tuesday by Sotos Class Actions, Kugler Kandestin LLP and Coupal Chauvelot s.a. and claims that both levels of government have “breached class members’ constitutional right to equality, among other rights, by failing to provide child welfare and other essential health and social services on a level that is substantively equal to what any other Canadian child receives.”

It says Inuit children in northern Quebec that came into contact with the child welfare system “ were unnecessarily placed in state care in droves” and that underfunding “deprived Inuit children of essential health, social and other services.”

“I want Inuit children in Nunavik to have their day in court”

A playground in Kuujjuaq, Quebec. “I want Inuit children in Nunavik to have their day in court,” Tanya Jones said. “I want their pain and suffering to be heard, felt and repaired.” (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

The suit’s two petitioners, Lucy Tookalook and Tanya Jones, both went through the child welfare system and say they don’t want future generations to experience what they have. 

“I was taken from my mother when I was born and sent thousands of miles away as a newborn to a hospital in Montreal,” Tookalook said in a statement.  

“I was there for seven months, alone and with no support. I was then returned to Nunavik to a system that utterly abandoned me and other Inuit children in the face of heartless neglect and abuse. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my kids and the next generations of Inuit in Quebec.”

Jones says it’s important for the experiences of people like her to be aired in court, so the effects on children can’t be ignored.

“I am taking action today because I want to bring justice to my people—my people who have been treated as less than human for decades,” Jones said on the day the application was filed. “I want Inuit children in Nunavik to have their day in court. I want their pain and suffering to be heard, felt and repaired.”

The next step in the class action will be once the Superior Court of Quebec rules on whether the class action can proceed.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn@cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: COVID-19 delays delivery of apology to Inuit residential school survivors in Atlantic Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Danish PM apologizes to Greenlanders taken to Denmark as children in 1950s, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finnish gov agrees to formation of Sámi Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Yle News

Norway: The Arctic railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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