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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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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."