Child welfare lawsuit by Inuit that claims system is racist waiting for judge’s ruling

September hearing was held to decide if class action can go ahead.

Former Inuit wards of the state in Quebec are waiting for a judge to decide if their class action lawsuit against the province and the federal government will proceed.

On Sept. 25 and 26, Quebec’s Superior Court heard Tanya Jones and second anonymous claimant (“A.B.”)’s statement of claim of “long standing discriminatory treatment” of Indigenous children and their families living in Quebec by two levels of government with “shared responsibility for their wellbeing.”

“The Inuit in Nunavik have lived for decades neglected by the federal and Quebec governments,” says the statement of claim. “These Indigenous people have been forced off their traditional land and had their traditional ways of life disrupted by governments that coveted their natural resources but treated them as second or third-class citizens.”

The complaint alleges that both Quebec and Canada have “failed in providing basic child welfare and other essential health and social services” and seeks reparations for the unequal treatment of Inuit and off-reserve Indigenous people in Quebec.

Lizzie Aloupa, a court interpreter based in Quaqtaq, said social services failed to address the root causes of parents losing their children.

“I have never heard them being offered ‘we will go with you and support you as you go through the process of healing, you can get your children back’ it’s just, they’re following their steps, there’s no emotion or kind of compassion,” said Aloupa.

She was close to a couple struggling with alcohol resulting in them almost losing their children. Aloupa remembers calling a representative from the department of youth protection to take preventative measures rather than removing the children immediately.

“I told her I want you first to go and talk to them. Because it’s going to be a very, very sad day when you go there the first time and take their children away. So the worker said ‘Oh, oh I never thought of it before,'” said Aloupa.

Former senator Charlie Watt says he hopes this class action will draw attention to the plight of Inuit.

“If it was truly left alone, it’s not going to be known to the world what’s happening to the Inuit kids. you know, Why are they taking their lives so much?” said Watt.

In 2018, the Viens Commission, a panel examining racism in Quebec, reported that one in three youth in Nunavik would come into contact with children protection services at some point in their lives. Studies indicate that suicide rates in the region are ten times higher than in southern Canada, largely driven by people under age 25.

Despite his decades of advocacy for Inuit, Watt says youth are still being separated from their parents into the foster system – a trauma that exacerbates the high addiction rates in Nunavik, the Inuit territory in northern Quebec.

“When they become 18 years of age, they just throw them out of the door and they on their own. So they’re not getting any counseling, they’re not getting any help whatsoever let alone that their parents or single parents also have gone through a trauma and in regards to the fact that the kids are being taken away,” said Watt.

Watt is grateful to lawyers like Louis Coupal who have been working on the suit against the attorney general of Quebec and of Canada.

Coupal says despite the remoteness of Nunavik, Quebec and Canada have no excuse to underserve the region.

“This is in Quebec, and Quebec made a societal choice to include these populations or at least to join itself to these populations and live together,” he said. “So there’s no reasonable excuse that would allow or justify that an unequal service be offered to members of the targeted populations.”

This claim mirrors a federal case that landed in the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007. In 2016, commissioners with the tribunal found that Canada discriminated against First Nations children living on reserve in provinces and Yukon, by not funding child welfare programs at the same level as those off reserve. In July, Canada agreed to pay $23.4 billion in penalties to children and their families.

The case of Inuit living in Nunavik in sub-Arctic Quebec, claims that “systemic underfunding, neglect, and avoidance of their constitutional and legal duties to the Class, the Respondents failed generations of Indigenous children and youth who came into contact with the child welfare system,” and “withholding funding for basic child welfare prevention services available to non-Indigenous Québécois and Canadian children.”

Like the case before the CHRT, the Nunavik claim also says Canada and Quebec withheld vital health services that are available to non-Indigenous children.

“The respondents deprived Inuit children who required essential health, social and other services (the Essential Services Class, defined below) of services that were substantively equal to those available to [non-Indigenous] children in Quebec and Canada,” the claim says. “The Respondents have been repeatedly admonished by parliamentary and other public institutions that Inuit children needing essential services face service gaps, delays and denials due to the gross underfunding of essential services in Nunavik. Instead of addressing these chronic failures, the Respondents evaded responsibility, and each pointed to the other as the one with the obligation and jurisdiction to provide the service needed by the Inuit child in need.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court other than the classification hearing. If the class action is approved, a decision is not expected for another year. But Aloupa hopes that no matter the outcome, the class action will spark change.

“What I hope for is that they will do as it was said, like doing prevention before taking the children.”

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