Quebec rights commission: Nunavik must mobilize for children
“The situation involving Nunavik’s children continues to be quite alarming”
KUUJJUAQ — Nunavik leaders must step up and deal with the “emergency” caused by the continuing neglect and abuse of many children in the region, the Quebec human rights commission says in a report to be officially released at 2:00 p.m. on Sept. 20 in Kuujjuaq.
“The situation involving Nunavik’s children continues to be quite alarming, because the level of social distress appears to be increasing,” the 55-page report says, citing growing rates of suicide and crime.
This report, now posted on the commission’s website, is a follow-up to a 2007 report in which investigators from the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse responded to complaints about shortfalls in the youth and protection services in Nunavik.
Everyone in Nunavik must mobilize and make “a resolute commitment” to curb drug and alcohol abuse, violence and school absenteeism so that children can live in stable homes, the follow-up report says.
The commission also echoes a call by Nunavik leaders for more social housing construction in Nunavik, acknowledging that “household overcrowding is a major problem that exacerbates the social problems.”
During its 2007 investigation, the commission probed the entire youth protection system, finding the rights of Inuit children and young people in Nunavik were routinely infringed under sections 1, 4 and 39 of the Quebec charter of human rights.
Investigators found “a large number of children are physically, psychologically and sexually mistreated. Some children, despite their young age, are addicted to alcohol, drugs or other substances that cause serious physical or mental disorders.”
They found the region’s social network failed to give children and youth the protection to which they are legally entitled.
And the Youth Protection Act is badly known and, “as it is poorly applied, it is considered to be poorly adapted to Inuit culture,” they said in 2007.
Three years later, the commission says these problems persist.
Overall, efforts to improve conditions remain fragile and their results are shaky and “precarious,” says the commission’s lukewarm evaluation of progress made since 2007.
Although its Sept. 20 report wraps up the investigation into complaints that were first made in 2002, the commission says it may still decide to “intervene on its own initiative [to protect Nunavik’s children], if this proves to be necessary.”
The message from the commission couldn’t be clearer: there’s still a lot of work to do in Nunavik.
If there’s no improvement over the short-term, the commission could decide put youth and child protection services under a form of trusteeship.
The commission does acknowledge that Nunavik organizations have started to work together “to a certain degree,” and some “promising” programs have been introduced, such as local partnership committees in Kuujjuaq, Salluit and Inukjuak, the youth hockey development program, and nutrition programs in all the regions’ child care centres.
But these efforts aren’t enough, the commission says.
Organizations must focus on children instead of their own interests, it says.
As it stands now, “numerous obstacles [to progress] remain in the areas of education, culture, and sports.”
People must take more and stronger actions, with all communities forming partnership committees to tackle the job, the commission says.
In Nunavik it says:
● one in five children, many the victims of assault and neglect, were reported to youth protection in 2010;
● the children who are most at risk include the most vulnerable, under five years old, who make up half of the cases under youth protection;
● 30 per cent of children under 18 have been reported to youth protection, a rate six times higher than the Quebec average; and,
● the numbers of children being reported to youth protection are on the increase, by 110 per cent in Hudson Bay communities and by 57 per cent in Ungava Bay communities, a rise which may be “partly due to better organization and compliance” with the youth protection law.
One case, cited in the follow-up report, reveals the obstacles challenging youth protection in Nunavik.
A father served a prison sentence for physically and sexually assaulting all of his children.
Despite an abundance of evidence, he denies these facts, shows no remorse, does not question his own behaviour, refuses to allow the youth protection service to get involved, and says he will decide for himself how to raise his children.
The mother wants him to return home, and refuses any kind of service, while youth protection workers are under pressure from the community to reunite the family.
The father submits a petition to the court, signed by two members of the community’s health committee and two members of the municipal council, asking that he be allowed to return to the home to live with his wife and children.
“This situation illustrates the challenges involved in reconciling the protection of children with pressures exerted by the community,” the commission says.
People should avoid “doing anything that compromises the best interests of the children.”
“Drug and alcohol consumption continues to be one of the main causes of emergency placement of children,” says the commission.
But many Nunavimmiut see youth protection as part of the problem rather than a force for change.
Some in Nunavik say families should be given more of a chance to shape up before their children are removed and that youth protection agents don’t know how to communicate and don’t understand Inuit culture.
Critics say they’re angry that youth protection has removed nearly 200 children from their homes to live with foster families, often with non-Inuit families, and sometimes in the South.
But in Nunavik, there is still no training program for foster families, “the Inuit foster families are not very stable,” and “the recruitment, assessment, and monitoring of foster families remain problematic throughout Nunavik,” the commission says.
On the organizational side of services for youth and child protection, the commission still notes serious shortcomings: the high levels of staff turnover, unfilled positions, the lack of Inuit who are willing to work in youth protection even as interpreters, and the slowness of Nunavik’s travelling court system.
And adoptive parents and children to be adopted still do not undergo any formal assessment, which the commission calls “deplorable.”
The commission wanted to see changes to traditional adoptions, including mandatory family assessments because its investigators found many adopted children end up under youth protection and are sometimes treated as family “whipping boys.”
As well, specialized services for children aged six to 12 with serious behavioural problems are still not available in Nunavik, the commission notes.
In 2007, the commission made 21 recommendations on how Nunavik, working with the provincial government, should act to improve conditions within a year, with Quebec premier Jean Charest taking the lead to make sure that change happened.
But the follow-up report, which looks one-by-one at the progress made in each of these recommendations, doesn’t mention Charest’s name.
Instead, it calls on Makivik, other regional organizations and communities to act.
Here is the report: