Following an incident in April 2019 where a seven-year-old girl from Granby was murdered by her thirty-eight-year-old stepmother, Quebec is now responding to the call to reform its youth protection services.
The seven-year-old girl had been wrapped in layers of adhesive tape to restrain her overnight. The stepmother testified that she had been trying to prevent the little girl from escaping, and she admitted that she tied her up from head to toe. The little girl was found unresponsive the following morning and pronounced dead at the hospital. The child had faced constant abuse.
This incident, as well as the tabling of the Laurent Commission report on the DPJ, containing 60 recommendations calling for the child’s welfare to be held at the centre of all decisions, paved the way for the unanimous adoption of ‘Bill 15’ in the National Assembly: 115 votes for the bill to pass, and no votes against it. It makes a promise to prioritise children’s interests over and above all other considerations – that includes the interests of the parents.
The new law will enable the placement of children into foster care, overhauling the principle of parental primacy, which usually prefers to keep children within their biological family units regardless of whether there is abuse or neglect in their circumstances or not.
The bill, led by Lionel Carmant, Social Services Junior Health Minister, will also loosen the rules of confidentiality, allowing for personal information to be shared about children with authorities and caregivers. “The life of the child is worth more than professional secrecy,” Carmant said.
Carmant reportedly said, “This change, for me, was non-negotiable. Too many families have been broken up because of this notion. I don’t want it anymore.”
He also stated that the legislation will focus on streamlining access to government services for children in foster care who are approaching adulthood as well. When a child is the focus of a judicial dispute, a lawyer will be comprehensively assigned. A child reaching the age of 17 who is under DPJ care will be given information, outlining to them all the services they will be eligible for once they have turned 18.
Quebec parents are raising their concerns. They are concerned that Bill 15 allows the state to override the principle of parental primacy and natural ties.
The bill was introduced in December 2021.
Quebec’s Youth Protection Act (1977) had until now, recognised that the state should “tend to maintain” a child at risk “in his or her family environment.” This meant that parents had the primary responsibility for their children.
In situations where it was impossible or impractical for children to stay in their family homes, child protective authorities would try to place the children with members of the extended family. If that avenue failed, they would be placed into foster care.
Mainstream Canadian media have described the new law as an “acknowledgment that keeping a neglected or abused child within their biological family at all costs” should not be “an absolute priority” anymore, and that “ensuring the child is provided with a stable environment as quickly as possible” should be the “government’s priority.”
This new approach to child welfare and protection will mean that biological parents will have fewer chances to improve their situation and maintain their custody.
Carmant said, “Before, as soon as parents raised their hand and said, ‘We’re ready to try again, we’ve changed, we’ve improved, the addiction is behind me,’ we returned the child to the parents. Now, if “at some point” the intervenor’s judge that situation has not improved in a significant way, they can look for a more stable and permanent solution for the child. The younger the child, the more this decision needs to be taken rapidly, to ensure the child has a family for life.”
The number of cases opened by the DPJ is continuing to rise, with 118,000 on file last year and a further 3,888 children who are still awaiting evaluation of their situation by the DPJ.