Victims of Quebec’s youth protection system are seeking a class-action lawsuit

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A group representing individuals who suffered abuse while in the custody of the youth protection system has filed an application with Quebec Superior Court for a class-action lawsuit. Authorization for the lawsuit is being sought as the Laurent Commission is investigating the funding and organization of Quebec’s youth protection system. The application covers anyone who was subjected to any kind of abuse, including solitary confinement, assault, sexual assault, unnecessary medication, or inducement to develop a nicotine addiction. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) supports the application for a class-action lawsuit, one which could potentially include thousands of victims.

Premier François Legault announced the Commission headed by Regine Laurent after the recent death of a 7-year old girl in Granby from gross neglect and abuse. The Laurent Commission has been hearing one horror story after another from adult abuse survivors, yet this isn’t the first time that Quebec has looked into what’s wrong with the youth protection system or proposed solutions for how to fix it. Leith Hamilton, a community researcher, recalls the Batshaw Commission in the 1970s when he was with the Children’s Defence Committee. The thing about these commissions is that there’s always the usual routine, he says, It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The eight-member commission headed by Manuel Batshaw was established in response to a public outcry over what news reports at the time described as “appalling” and “barbaric” treatment of thousands of children in Quebec’s juvenile detention system. The 350-page Batshaw Report that landed on Social Affairs Minister Claude Forget’s desk in 1975 was hailed as revolutionary because of the scope of its analysis, sweeping recommendations, and a clarion call to action. 
Yet, history appears doomed to repeat itself as today’s media coverage highlights the same tragic pattern of ostensibly progressive reforms while too many kids either end up in the system or fall through its cracks – a harsh reality that disproportionately affects children from identifiable groups. “The system has not been able to monitor itself and implement the recommendations of the Batshaw Report,” Hamilton says. 

Quebec’s youth protection system are seeking a class-action lawsuit

What’s the missing link? The former social worker says it’s the people most often left out of the discussion: the parents. “The research says that the state cannot replace the parents.”  However, the process doesn’t reflect this insight. “The parents have been voiceless,” Hamilton says. “There is a big disconnect between engaging parents and reforms.” He cites as an example, how the very seating arrangement at the public hearings pointed to this divide. The professionals sat in one room, while the “community people” – parents, ex-clients, and advocates – were in the other.  “Parents have to be given a voice and they have to be viable players.”  

Dismissing parents when their child is in crisis can have disastrous consequences. Children may end up in the custody of the youth protection system simply because they are troubled, or runaways, and not because they have committed any crime that warrants placing them with young offenders. Exposing vulnerable youths to potential abuse and violence from more hardened adolescents is a high-risk proposition. A worst-case scenario involves placing youths in adult police cells when youth detention centers become overcrowded. 

Some of the abuse survivors of the youth protection system have banded together and are starting a Facebook page so they can keep in touch and share their stories although it will not be a public group for reasons of confidentiality. Even if their class-action lawsuit succeeds, it will be cold comfort. “The family lawyers don’t offer any emotional support,” Hamiton says. “There is nothing in place to deal with the emotionality of these terrible stories.” Still, Hamilton believes that the class-action lawsuit can itself be a vehicle to change the system and hopefully bring about some catharsis for the people involved. 

By: Deborah Rankin – [email protected]

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