Quebec launches wide-ranging public commission into youth protection – Global News

Quebec launches wide-ranging public commission into youth protection - Global News
Quebec launches sweeping commission on child protection after death of Granby girl
A woman pays her respect in front of the house where lived a 7-year-old girl who was found in critical condition in her home on Monday in Granby, Que. on May 3, 2019.

The Quebec government launched a wide-ranging independent commission Thursday to look into youth protection in the province, prompted by the death last month of a seven-year-old girl who had been followed by child services and whose case fell between the cracks.

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.

Premier Francois Legault and Lionel Carmant, the minister who oversees youth protection, were joined by representatives of the three opposition parties in Quebec City for the announcement of the commission’s 18-month mandate.

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.

“What I hope is that there’s a before Granby and an after Granby,” he said. “That all of Quebec says that from now on, we’ll do things differently.”

The commission will be led by Régine Laurent, a nurse and former labour leader, and will include one lawmaker from each of the four main political parties as well as five outside experts and two vice-chairmen.

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.

“I am here because I want things to change,” Laurent said. “I’m determined to identify concrete solutions for our children so that we never again lose a child in distress.”

Laurent said the case of the girl from Granby, who according to the government had been in the protection system since birth, shocked and saddened her. Then came a sense of shame that something like this could happen, in Quebec, in 2019, she said.

WATCH BELOW: Granby girl’s death prompts questions about Quebec’s youth protection system

Numerous factors need to be considered, including making sure the province’s 40-year-old Youth Protection Act is equipped to deal with the current conditions and realities of families in Quebec. The review will looking at funding and organization of youth protection services and their ability to provide timely, responsive services to children and families.

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.

The committee will look at how the education sector, child care, community organizations, health and social services, legal services and police interact with the protection system. And it will study the experience of Indigenous children and their families within the system.

Some hearings will be public while others will be held behind closed doors to allow interveners to speak freely.

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.

Laurent said she had three conditions going in _ that the commission have an open-ended mandate, that her team be reinforced with the proper experts and that she have a firm commitment from the Coalition Avenir Québec government that her report wouldn’t be tucked away in storage.

“It’s what I told the premier during our meeting, and he assured me it wouldn’t be shelved,” Laurent said. The commission will issue a final report with recommendations by Nov. 30, 2020 at the latest.

The government was well aware of a backlog of cases and a lack of resources in the youth protection system in general when they took power last fall and added funding in its last budget.

“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.

“But I think Granby showed us it was urgent for us to go faster and to look at the entire problem, not just youth protection,” Legault said.

While the girl’s death may have sparked the probe, her case won’t be central to it, Laurent said.

“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.

“There are already many investigations, so the commission will look at the issues from a larger perspective,” she said.

Several investigations have already been ordered into the handling of her case, including a coroner’s inquest, an internal probe by the regional health authority that oversees youth protection in the Eastern Townships region, an investigation by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Commission and a police probe.

The girl’s father, 30, and stepmother, 35, were each charged with unlawful confinement while the woman was also charged with aggravated assault.

QUEBEC — The government has announced the creation of an independent roaming commission to probe the state of the province’s youth-protection network.

Granby police found the girl at her home in critical condition and she died April 29 after her guardians had appeared in court. The Crown is looking at the evidence to see if they’ll be upgrading the charges the pair face.

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.

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“The neighbours knew (about the child’s situation), people in the school knew. People in youth protection were aware there was a problem.

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.

Above all, she insisted Legault guarantee her final report not wind up on the shelf, an assurance she says she obtained.

"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."