Montreal Native Women’s Refuge sever ties with Batshaw
Providing youth protection services to English-speaking Montrealers and a large number of Inuit children from Nunavik, critics say Batshaw has failed to act on recommendations made in numerous reports and public inquiries.
The NWSM has still not received a response to a letter sent in August to the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, the regional health authority that oversees Batshaw, which explained that systemic racism led against indigenous children and their families remain unanswered.
“After a while you keep hitting a wall, so we just walked out,” NWSM executive director Nakuset said. “We continued to sit at the top table and everything we said seemed to go into a vacuum.”
Nakuset shared various examples of racist attitudes exhibited by Batshaw social workers. When an Inuit woman did not understand the language on one occasion, a social worker suggested, “Maybe she just drank too much alcohol and is brain dead. Another Aboriginal woman who had stained before her supervised visit was charged with smoking weed.
Earlier this year, an investigation by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission found that Inuit children at the facility do not receive an adequate education and are sometimes discouraged from speaking Inuktitut. Sources involved with the agency say the investigations have resulted in little change in the way Indigenous families and children are treated.
“A month ago a mother was talking to her child in Inuktitut and the social worker told her not to do that,” Nakuset told Nation. “We talked to the youth protection officer, but the [allegations] do not appear in the meeting minutes. There is no evidence that these conversations took place.
Although more than half of the children in Canada’s foster care systems are Indigenous, the number of Indigenous children in Batshaw is not accurately tracked. Inuit youth reported significant isolation, with no one able to converse in their language. Although staff members expressed empathy and a desire to understand Nordic realities, reports document a lack of relevant cultural training.
Many Inuit children are deprived of education in one of their two languages, Inuktitut or English, according to a report on Batshaw. In the report, a teenager noted that, “Part of the reason I’m on internship is because I wasn’t going to school. So they send me here and I am not allowed to go to school. Instead, he receives tutoring.
The Cree Board of Health said Batshaw remains an important training partner, helping him deal with occasional situations to protect at-risk Cree youth in Montreal before they are referred to youth protection services. Eeyou Istchee as quickly as possible.
While the NWSM has offered programs and provided tools like a cultural manual for non-Indigenous foster parents over the past decade, Batshaw has repeatedly resisted attempts for more meaningful collaboration. A request to form a clinical integration group made up of community organizations, experts and Batshaw representatives was denied in 2019.
The NWSM remains committed to helping Indigenous children in Batshaw, including an agreement that refers pregnant women and new mothers to shelter services. However, Nakuset said social workers sometimes arbitrarily prevent such referrals – she said only one of their employees is indigenous.
“Now they’re saying, ‘please send us aboriginals’ because they know they can’t bring any aboriginal people there,” Nakuset said. “I knew a Mi’kmaq girl named Gina who worked there for three months and who cried every day. She was so abused as a staff member. The other guy I know burned out – they didn’t even leave him on native issues.
This lack of Indigenous representation could be corrected in future legal proceedings against the CIUSSS. Fo Niemi, Director General of the Center for Research-Action on Racial Relations (CRARR), explained that Quebec public services have the mandate to implement employment equity for Indigenous peoples and other visible minorities. .
“If there is documented systemic discrimination and a failure to overcome these obstacles, then certainly Batshaw could end up in court,” Niemi told The Nation. “We will ask for data on employment equity and the steps taken to correct this serious under-representation. At the end of the day, someone in management has to be responsible.
A potential lawsuit would require the filing of civil rights complaints, but one of the challenges could be overcoming mistrust of the justice system among indigenous peoples. CRARR has faced similar issues in previous cases involving racial profiling of the black community by police
“The hardest part was convincing the parents of black youth that they should no longer agree to be silent,” Niemi said. “We need to work on this mistrust and show that the system can be accessible and can work for indigenous peoples. Policies must be adopted; procedures need to be improved – that’s how we can make changes.
The regional health authority called the end of the partnership “regrettable” and said it was currently developing an action plan to implement the recommendations of the Viens and Laurent commissions.
After Nakuset urged the Quebec government to hold Batshaw to account for implementing these recommendations, Health and Human Services Minister Lionel Carmant said they had already intervened on the issue. “If the situation persists, we will do what it takes to correct it,” Carmant said.
Nakuset hopes the situation will improve when the NWSM opens its second stage housing project in 12 to 14 months. It will include a Dr Julien Foundation for Social Pediatrics, open to anyone in the city having problems with youth protection.
Meanwhile, Quebec is the only province to challenge Bill C-92, a federal law transferring control of Indigenous youth protection from the provinces to Indigenous communities. Although some First Nations in the province have launched their own child protection services after years of negotiations, others have been significantly delayed by the legal battle.