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

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)

Ruling says systemic discrimination deprived teenager of her cultural identity

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-traumatic 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.

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.

In another decision critical of youth protection last year, Warolin set a precedent by awarding cash compensation to a young woman who was forgotten by youth protection officials for nearly 15 years.

‘We’re doing everything we can’

Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant responded Thursday at the National Assembly.

Carmant insisted the Coalition Avenir Québec government has been working with Indigenous authorities in the North to find solutions.

Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant told reporters at the National Assembly Thursday the government was doing everything it could to limit this from happening again. (CBC News)

“We’re doing everything we can to limit this from happening again,” Carmant said.

But he added the government wasn’t going to impose solutions on Indigenous communities, and that the process would take time.

“The First Nations and Inuit are the best people to take care of their kids, and that’s the reason why we’re building that together,” he said.

Carmant also noted the government had invested in a program called Agir tôt in the North, designed to support families with young children.

“We have to work upstream of youth protection,” Carmant said.

“This is the only way we are going to get out of this, to develop programs that will prevent young people from being reported to youth protection in the first place,” he added.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Youth protection officials in Nunavik say they can no longer ensure children’s well-being, CBC News

United States: Alaska and its tribes sign child services agreement, Alaska Public Media

Steve Rukavina, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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