"I am determined to identify concrete solutions for our children," said Régine Laurent, as she was introduced by Quebec Premier François Legault as head of a commission looking into the youth-protection system. Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS
QUEBEC — The government has announced the creation of an independent roaming commission to probe the state of the province’s youth-protection network.
Arguing on Thursday that Quebec needs to learn from its mistakes following the tragic death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby in April, Premier François Legault personally launched the operation to be tagged the special commission on the rights of children and youth protection — or the Laurent Commission for short.
He has named respected former nurses union president Régine Laurent as chair of the commission, which will be made up of nine people, including five experts and representatives for the four political parties in the National Assembly.
The commission has 18 months to complete its work, which means a report is due by Nov. 30, 2020 — but Legault said if the job can be done sooner, all the better.
In fact, he urged the commission, which will be independent of the government, to release recommendations along the way to correct obvious faults in a system that has failed a few children in the last years, sparking great emotional angst in all levels of Quebec society.
“The tragedy (in Granby) showed us the situation was unacceptable,” Legault said at a news conference in a Quebec City hotel. “Everyone in Quebec was shaken.
“The neighbours knew (about the child’s situation), people in the school knew. People in youth protection were aware there was a problem.
“We have to do something, we have to change the system. Yes, it’s too bad we had to suffer through what happened in Granby. That’s why I say, there will be a before and an after Granby.”
The commission’s mandate is sweeping with orders to examine all aspects of Quebec’s youth-protection network plus the role of the courts, social services and services provided by other partners such as schools.
Sitting beside Legault for the news conference, the no-nonsense Laurent said she made her terms for taking on the task clear to the premier: She asked for a broad mandate and that the committee be allowed to call on experts because she personally doesn’t know the youth-protection system well.
Above all, she insisted Legault guarantee her final report not wind up on the shelf, an assurance she says she obtained.
“I am determined to identify concrete solutions for our children,” Laurent said, adding she enters the process with a will of iron. “To be sure that no more children, no child in distress falls through the cracks. I am here because I want things to change.”
She said the commission will not have time for partisan political games, either. There have been suggestions that former Liberal health minister Gaétan Barrette be hauled in to justify cuts to the network under his watch.
“The commission is not there to put anyone on trial in any way,” said Laurent, who is the past president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec.
The political representatives on the commission — Lise Lavallée for the Coalition Avenir Québec, Hélène David for the Liberal opposition, Sol Zanetti for Québec solidaire and Lorraine Richard for the Parti Québécois — rapidly swept away friction between their parties over the creation of the commission.
“Things were a little bit difficult at the start, to get this process moving, but we succeeded,” David said at the news conference.
Legault, who personally stepped in at the last minute to make the commission a go, said he, too, believes the commissioners will work together in the best interests of the children.
“We want to make sure every child in Quebec is protected,” added junior health minister Lionel Carmant, who has ministerial responsibility for youth protection.
The decision to proceed with a special commission followed an incident in April that rocked all of Quebec. The child, who had been followed for years by youth protection, was found tied up and in critical condition inside a home on April 29.
Her death soon after led to two arrests, a public coroner’s inquiry and the suspension of a youth-protection administrator in the Eastern Townships.
Two adults — identified by people close to the family as the girl’s father and his partner — were arrested before the child died.
To help Laurent wade through the red tape, the government added two vice-chairs to the commission: André Lebon, who has advised the government before on reorganizing youth services in Laval and Nunavik, and Michel Rivard, a social-affairs lawyer who has worked for Quebec’s administrative court.
Premier François Legault formally launched Thursday a commission on child protection, following the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, whose case was known by social workers for years.
"It's not the first time in Quebec the system that's supposed to protect children abandoned one of them," Legault told a news conference in Quebec city.
Régine Laurent, the former president of Quebec's largest nurses union, FIQ, will head the special commission.
Laurent said at the launch that she, like all Quebecers, was moved by the death of the girl in Granby.
"For sure I felt sadness and anger, but also shame. I'm ashamed that this could happen in Quebec in 2019," Laurent said.
The commission will examine every aspect of youth protection in Quebec. It will travel the province and interview various stakeholders.
It includes Laurent, six other experts, and one MNA from each of the four parties in the National Assembly.
The goal is to come up with recommendations by November 2020 on how to improve youth protection services, which advocates say are plagued by long wait lists and understaffing.
In the wake of the girl's death in late April, several investigations were announced — by provincial police, by the local health authority, and another by the province's human and youth rights commission.
Local police had found the girl in critical condition at her father's home in Granby, 80 kilometres east of Montreal. She was taken to hospital where she remained in a coma until she died April 29.
The girl's father, 30, has been charged with forcible confinement, and her stepmother, 35, has been charged with forcible confinement and aggravated assault.
CBC News is not naming them or anyone else related to the girl because of a court-ordered publication ban to protect the child's identity.
The commission is already facing criticism. Indigenous leaders have pointed to a lack of Indigenous representation.
The chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Ghislain Picard says First Nations youth are over-represented in foster care.
"We've seen very little progress and we feel this is an opportunity to address these issues and change the system," Picard said in an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday.
"First Nations have realities that are unique to them. It will be taken into account," said junior health minister Lionel Carmant in a statement. "However, the commission will be independent and will have to make their own choices in regards to the experts to be selected as commissioners."