A child welfare agency in Montreal is drawing fire after an Indigenous teen was allegedly forced to self-isolate in a windowless, basement room for several days.
The agency, however, insists they were just following COVID-19 protocol.
For legal reasons, APTN News can’t name the youth or his teacher, who is advocating on their behalf.
“Here he is, not knowing any better – been in the care of [youth protection] his whole life,” the teacher explained. “And here he is, just thinking this is the way things are. It’s just normal to him.”
“It’s not normal. It’s sickening.”
According to a press release issued by the Montreal Indigenous Community Network (MICN), on Tuesday May 25, a 16-year-old Indigenous youth under the care of Batshaw Youth and Family Services was “mistakenly sent to school in spite of the previous night’s news reporting that schools would be closed.
The school wasn’t closed because of COVID-19 – it was closed because of a problem with a local bridge that leads it.
“My student needed to get his school supplies because school had been closed down on the Tuesday as a result of a bridge closure here in Montreal,” the teacher explained.
“He was sent to school anyway from the group home. They didn’t know or didn’t get the news the school was closed.”
According to the press release, Batshaw personnel determined due the youth’s delayed return to the group home meant “they were at risk of having come into contact with COVID-19.”
Quebec’s pandemic protocols indicate a person should self-isolate for 14 days if they come into contact with someone who is confirmed COVID-positive.
The MICN and its child’s teacher both told APTN News he was ordered to self-isolate in a basement room for two weeks without a COVID-19 screening test ever being performed.
“The room has been described to me, and confirmed by the people who work there, as a windowless, cement room in a basement,” the teacher explained.
“My student had a chair and a bed – and that was all. They had removed his cell phone and means of communication, [everything] other than school work.”
APTN requested an interview with Batshaw officials about the allegations.
Batshaw declined, and instead, the health authority that oversees the youth protection organization sent a written statement.
It said Batshaw Youth and Family Services’ priority “is assuring the health and security of youth under our protection.”
“When required, youth exposed to – and suspected of being infected with – COVID-19 go into isolation in a ‘yellow’ zone to prevent transmission of COVID to other young people,” a spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal said in an email.
“Isolation does not mean leaving young people to themselves – on the contrary. The presence of an educator is assured in addition to offering them several sources of entertainment.”
The statement didn’t address the concerns that that the young boy was kept in a windowless basement.
Batshaw’s alleged treatment of Indigenous youth has been criticized before.
Two weeks ago, a report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal “chronically violates” Indigenous children’s “right to education and the full development of their human and cultural potential.”
A 2019 report found there was “no direct or transparent processes for families or community organizations to file complaints” about incidents at Batshaw.
The youth’s teacher, however, says a formal complaint about the most recent incident of forced isolation is in the works.
“You do not, in 2021, reduce a young Indigenous person to a number, and say ‘an algorithm’ told you to do it,” he said.
“It is a complete, utter failure in the system. And I would suggest a moral failure too.”
The teacher, the Montreal Community Groups Network, and representatives from Batshaw and the health board convened for a meeting late last week.
By that point, the youth in question had reportedly spent three or four days in isolation with no outdoor access.
Amanda Moniz, who works with the network, told APTN their concerns were dismissed at the meeting.
“They kept telling us they had to follow a very strict algorithm. [It] sounds very robotic and mathematical,” Moniz added.
“They were so resistant, it was incredible. It became very clear that there were there to just let us talk and express concerns just so they could appease us. That they could check a box off a list and say ‘ah, we heard them,” he said.
“But really, nothing was done.”
According to Moniz, the teen was eventually moved to a room with a window – but remains in forced isolation, pending a negative COVID-19 test.
APTN contacted the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal to find out whether the test was performed over the weekend as anticipated.
“We cannot comment on specific cases,” the spokesperson returned. “We reiterate that our priority is to provide a safe environment for our youth and that we are committed to following public health recommendations on screening in living environment.”
With files from Tom Fennario