‘It’s time to act’: Report into youth protection system says Quebec government knows the solution to problems

First Nations and Inuit in Quebec waited two years for the Laurent Commission’s final report to drop – and when it did, a scant two pages were dedicated to addressing their specific issues.

“Several commissions have already addressed the stakes. The solutions are known. It’s time to act,” reads a passage in the commission’s summary report, tabled in Quebec City on Monday.

The Laurent commission was called in 2019 to investigate Quebec’s youth protection system, prompted by the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, an hour outside of Montreal.

Not long after the commission was called, two Huron-Wendat children from Wendake, near Quebec City, also died after several warnings made to social workers in the region went ignored.

In response, Commission President Regine Laurent recommended appointing an independent commissioner to oversee the welfare and rights of children in the province.

It also recommended the province hire a youth protection director to oversee the system.

However, only four of the recommendations detailed in the full 552-page report are Indigenous-specific – and commission leaders insist there’s a reason.

“We are of the opinion that First Nations and Inuit are best-positioned to identify their children’s needs and see them through,” Laurent told reporters on Monday.

During public hearings, Laurent commission officials were urged to avoid “redoing the work of previous commissions,” according to Vice-President Andre Leblon.

“We don’t have a lot of new recommendations – the only recommendation is ‘just do what the other commissions have proposed,’” Leblon added.

On Monday, Leblon referred to the findings of the Viens Commission, the MMIWG National Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the 1996 Royal Commission as the foundation they intend to work from.

In its two-page summary of Indigenous issues, the Laurent Commission acknowledges the child welfare system’s inability to “adapt to Indigenous realities” while also acknowledging a shortage in frontline services.

“The statements of previous statements and testimony heard have demonstrated that the wellbeing of Indigenous children is inextricable from their culture,” according to the report.

“We believe in putting all the mechanisms in place to guarantee access to services for children in all Indigenous communities in Quebec.”

However, in Quebec, making concrete changes is an uphill battle.

Quebec is the only Canadian province issuing a legal challenge to Federal Bill C-92, giving First Nations, Métis and Inuit charge of their own child welfare systems.

It is also one of the few provinces that has yet to institute a ban on “birth alerts,” a practice known to disproportionately target Indigenous families and children.

While acknowledging that Quebec’s youth protection laws can be discriminatory, the Laurent Commission’s authors did not indicate “systemic racism” is at the root of the problem.

“We’re not going there. What we are saying here is very simple: as far as they are concerned, put [First Nations] on the decision table, and put them as active persons who will decide what kind of structure, what kind of law, what kind of services they need,” Leblon added.

In a press statement, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard said it’s time Indigenous child welfare services were “designed and administered by our own governments.

“We believe that reforming the legislative framework for youth protection in Quebec, in a complimentary fashion with, and in support of, the governance and laws of First Nations, is a fundamental matter.

“We are counting on the full cooperation of the Government of Quebec in this regard.”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault published his own Facebook post reacting to the report’s findings.

“We need to promise that this report won’t be shelved. We will ensure these recommendations are concretized,” Legault wrote.

“We promised to put the children first, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

No operating budget – or working timeline – was put forth during Monday’s announcement.

Reporter / Montreal

Lindsay was born and raised on the unceded territory of Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), and joined APTN News as a Quebec correspondent in 2019. While in university, she collaborated on a multiplatform project about the revitalization of the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language to commemorate the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Before APTN Lindsay worked at the Eastern Door, CTV Montreal and the Montreal Gazette.

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