MONTREAL — Quebec's human rights commission has launched an investigation into the treatment of Inuit children in the youth protection system, citing reports that Indigenous youth were prevented from speaking their own languages and not offered adequate services while in care.
"It has been reported that youth living in shelters were not allowed to communicate in their own language, and some youth would have suffered reprisals for speaking in Inuktitut," the commission said in a news release Friday.
Furthermore, the commission said, some of the children may not have been assigned a social worker when they were transferred from Quebec's north, on the assumption that they were still being followed by staff in their home communities.
Spokeswoman Meissoon Azzaria said the commission began the investigation on its own initiative rather than in response to an official complaint. She said the probe will attempt to verify whether the rights of youth have been violated and take steps to rectify any failings by issuing recommendations to the relevant departments.
The west-end Montreal health and social services centre whose group homes are tied to the investigation declined to comment on the allegations but reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that "the safety and development of children are not compromised."
The Batshaw Youth and Family Centres and the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Ile-de-Montreal added that their centres are "recognized for their openness to diversity and their ethnocultural skills."
Nakuset, director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, said long-standing issues within the foster-care system are well known. She said Indigenous youth often fall through the cracks because they don't receive the services they need once in the system.
"There's this kind of no-man's land where they're sitting, and they're literally in this strange home and doing nothing," she said in a phone interview. "There are no social workers, and I've heard some don't even go to school."
Nakuset, who has only one name, said it's "mind-boggling" to imagine any foster parent or youth worker would prevent a child from speaking Inuktitut, especially given the devastating Indigenous language loss that occurred as a result of residential schools.
"If you have girls that are talking in their own language and the mother is not understanding, she should get an interpreter," Nakuset said. "That's the responsible thing to do — not telling them to stop speaking their own language."
Nakuset says she has spent a decade working with the youth protection system to improve services, train specialized case workers and advocate for the rights of mothers, who often face discrimination and other barriers when trying to regain custody of their children.
While some progress has occurred, she said she is "absolutely thrilled" the commission is investigating, and hopes the results will accelerate the pace of necessary change.
"We just want to work together with them," she said of the current system. "And I feel sometimes like we're at the door, and they've opened it, but they won't let us in yet."
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press