A team of lawyers representing Inuit children and their families in Nunavik and Indigenous children not living on reserves in Quebec are seeking to launch a class-action lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments over discrimination they claim was suffered related to the director of youth protection services and other health and social services.
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The suit seeks to address what attorneys say was decades of discrimination suffered by the children and a chronic and unlawful lack of funding for child welfare and other services in Nunavik since 1975 and for children living off reserve who were removed from their homes and placed in foster care since 1992.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The suit says these children were overrepresented in the youth protection system in Quebec by an alarming margin. They say an untold number of children suffered because of it.
“It is known this problem has been affecting children in Nunavik and off reserve for decades,” lawyer for the plaintiffs William Colish said. “There are potentially tens of thousands of individuals who could be affected by this class.”
The suit lists two Inuit women from Nunavik as the main petitioners. The document details damning and horrific abuse the women suffered. One was removed from her home at five years old and placed in foster care. The girl was physically abused by her foster mother and sexually abused by her foster brother. She turned to drugs and alcohol at nine years old to cope with the trauma.
“She was a victim of a child welfare system that failed to protect her,” Colish said. “She failed to receive the necessary services and intervention from youth protection that would have prevented her from being placed in the first place.”
The suit says the two levels of government ignored abuse suffered by Inuit children within the child welfare system. Rather than increase funding, the suit says the system simply scooped children up, tearing them away from their families. They were often placed in foster homes far from their own villages and then abandoned by the system, with little followup.
The attorneys paid close attention to a historic $23-billion child welfare settlement the Canadian government reached last year, which compensates Indigenous children and families living on reserves related to inadequate child welfare services and other health and social services. The attorneys say that suit will change the lives of the children who will benefit, and are hoping for the same for their clients.
“It stands to be life-changing. It stands to turn the page on a horrific system that has failed many generations,” Colish said. “It marks one step towards reconciliation. The petitioners in this case are hoping for a similar outcome.”
Quebec Superior Court Judge Marie-Christine Hivon will be asked to authorize the lawsuit at an upcoming hearing. It is expected to last several days, and a decision by the judge on whether or not to authorize the lawsuit could take months.