Quebec’s human rights commission is investigating the recent slaying of two children in Wendake, whose alleged abuse had been reported to the province’s youth protection authorities.
According to a statement, the commission said it will try to determine whether the children’s rights were violated prior to their killings.
The bodies of the boys, aged two and five, were found in a home in Wendake, a Huron-Wendat First Nation territory near Quebec City, in the early hours of Oct. 11.
“I was woken up at 5 o’clock in the morning, and I was brought to the scene. And I could see in the eyes of the policemen, policewomen, the kind of sorrow they had inside. The pain they had inside,” explained Konrad Sioui, Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation.
“We were not ready for that. Nobody was ready for that. You’re not ready for this kind of a wake-up call,” Sioui added.
A judge has issued a publication ban on any information that could identify the victims.
A 30-year-old suspect turned himself in to Quebec City police and was later charged with two counts of second-degree murder. He has not yet entered a plea.
In an open letter, his mother claimed he suffered from mental health issues. He reportedly sought help, and did not receive it.
The rights commission said it would issue recommendations to Quebec City youth protection authorities “if it has reason to believe the children’s rights were violated.”
It says the investigation is private and no further information will be released.
Sioui, however, says the children’s mother made repeated attempts to contact the Directeur de Protection de Jeunesse – or DPJ – Quebec’s youth protection agency, before the incident occurred.
“She cried out for help, she cried out loud. The DPJ – she asked for help. She requested help. Was she answered?” Sioui said in an interview with APTN News.
Premier Francois Legault expressed condolences to the boys’ family and community at a recent news conference in Montreal.
“It’s always impossible to understand when someone (allegedly) kills two children; we ask ourselves why,” he said at the time.
Legault said that in addition to the investigations underway by police, the coroner and the human rights commission, Quebec’s junior health minister will also launch a probe into the events that led to the boys’ deaths.
“I cannot allow such events to be repeated – I have said this many times,” Minister Lionel Carmant said in a statement. “I want to check that the interventions in this file were carried out in an adequate manner.”
But the situation in Wendake unfortunately rings familiar.
East of Granby
Back in 2019, Quebec announced a public inquiry after a seven-year-old child was found dead in a home in Granby, east of Montreal.
The child’s stepmother was ultimately charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Youth protection services had reportedly been made aware of the non-Indigenous child’s situation at least a year before her death.
Quebec officials say the report – dubbed the “Laurent Commission” – has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A full analysis will now only be made available in April 2021 at the earliest, according to a government press release issued this week.
However, data shows complaints to youth protection officials spiked 12 per cent over the past year.
The increase has been attributed to the population, which appears to be on the lookout for abuse cases since the events in Granby took place.
Across the province
Nearly 120,000 reports were made across the province in 2019-20, according to Quebec’s Director of Youth Protection.
These figures mean that every day, the DPJ was notified of 324 problematic situations involving children – which is 35 more per day than the year before.
A preliminary report on the Wendake deaths is expected before Christmas – but Sioui is skeptical of the eventual outcome.
“I think we’re getting tired of these commissions that go on, and last for years and years and years, and finally they end up on a shelf somewhere, you know,” he said.
In October 2019, the Viens Commission, which examined the relationship between First Nations and Quebec’s public services, made over 20 recommendations to overhaul the province’s current child welfare system.
“The current youth protection system has been imposed on Indigenous peoples from the outside, taking into account neither their cultures nor their concepts,” Judge Jacques Viens outlined in his final report.
“Even worse, many believe the youth protection system perpetuates the negative effects of the residential school system, in that it removes a significant number of children from their families and communities each year to place them with non-Indigenous foster families,” he added.
While less than three per cent of Quebec’s children are Indigenous, they make up 15 per cent of the children currently in foster care.
During the Viens Commission hearings, Xavier Moushoom – an Algonquin man from Lac Simon – testified about the language, culture, and sense of stability lost while being shuffled through countless foster homes over a 10-year period.
Using Moushoom’s story as a base, in 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered compensation for all First Nations and Inuit survivors of foster care, determining that the Crown had discriminated against Indigenous youth by systematically under-funding the child welfare systems.
Canada is currently in court trying to overturn that ruling. They’re arguing the Tribunal has no right to order compensation of any kind.
In response to the ruling – and the debate that followed – Canada tabled Bill C-92, “An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth, and families.”
As of Jan. 1, 2020, it gave First Nations and Inuit the right to create – and maintain – their own youth protection services and foster care scenarios.
Except Quebec is pushing back.
“[Quebec] is the only province in Canada who are in court trying to say that the federal government did not have the right to pass a law that falls into a provincial jurisdiction, and so on and on,” Sioui said.
Quebec has specific provincial laws governing child welfare. According to the Viens Commission final report, First Nations seeking to take control and create their own youth protection must present a proposal to the government, and must “comply with the general principles and rights set out in the [Youth Protection Act]”
“The specific protection systems introduced by Indigenous nations must also respect the jurisdiction of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse,” the report reads.
But before Quebec signs off on an agreement, First Nations representatives must prove, essentially, that their system is just as effective as the one already in place.
According to Judge Viens, they must demonstrate they can manage frontline social services, offer training and clinical support to youth workers, make provisions to protect personal information, prove they can use a data operating system and implement a complaint-handling mechanism, and have measures in place to be able to evaluate the application and effectiveness of the system.
It took the Atikamekw Nation nearly 20 years to assemble these requirements, but in 2018 they signed an agreement with Quebec, giving the communities of Manawan and Wemotaci control of child welfare services.
They were the first Nation in Quebec to formulate such an agreement.
Meanwhile, in Wendake, Sioui says no amount of analysis by Quebec will comfort the children’s grieving mother.
“I spoke to her father – the grandfather – and he said ‘oh, my daughter she’s not able even to walk, almost. She’s sleeping. She’s in bed, you know,’” Sioui said. “So could you imagine the pain and the sorrow, and how such an event could not only break a family, but a community. A nation. And many, many more people also.”
“It’s not a question of first nations – it’s a question of human beings. We’re all human beings,” he added.
-With files from The Canadian Press.