File | Laval Youth Center | “Tannants” withdrawn in cells (2 articles)

The beige room is tiny and bare; a concrete bed base as the only furniture. Not one, but two successive steel doors allow a child to be locked inside.

The second door makes a resounding noise as it closes; identical in every way to that of an old prison cell door. The walls are covered with graffiti scribbled in lead pencil. Many praise local street gangs.

For almost a year, this is where children with “disruptive behavior” housed in youth protection at the Cartier youth center in Laval have been placed “in seclusion”. They are sometimes only 9 years old, denounce two sources at The Press.


One of two steel doors leading to the “cell”

The fault they are accused of can be as trivial as being agitated during the scheduled hour of rest in their room after supper. Or even “not wanting” to eat their meal, according to the president of the Laval Workers’ Union, Nathalie Bourque. “To prevent you from disturbing the other young people, we put you in the background,” she said.


Nathalie Bourque, president of the Laval Workers’ Union

“We put them in cages,” laments one of the sources who alerted us, but who cannot be named because she does not have authorization to speak to the media. “We are going to make monsters of them,” continues this source.

A center that overflows

Normally, at the Cartier youth center, children who are “withdrew” from their unit because they exhibit disturbing behavior are sent to the La Source calming unit, where workers help them regain their calm. There, the withdrawal rooms are equipped with a mattress and a work desk, we are told.

However, the La Source unit also serves as a living unit in the event of overflow. And for almost a year, requests for accommodation have been on the rise in Laval. Young people who must be accommodated in youth centers come from families who present several “characteristics unfavorable to their development” such as violence and abuse, drug addiction problems, a criminal culture or poor supervision, among others.


Occupancy rate at the Cartier youth center

In 2023, the 12 rooms of the La Source unit were almost always occupied. The average occupancy rate there was 116% in 2023 compared to 57% in 2022. Consequence: children who must be withdrawn are placed in tiny isolation rooms which resemble prison cells. The door remains open. A speaker is nearby. But they have almost nothing to occupy themselves, says Mme Bourque.

These kids are already torn apart. Many don’t understand why they are there. And we treat them like that.

Nathalie Bourque, president of the Laval Workers’ Union

These rooms – there are three side by side – are “isolation rooms” normally reserved for young people in crisis. A strict protocol governs their use. To be isolated there with the door closed, a young person must present a danger to himself or others or present a risk of running away or escaping.


Interior courtyard of the Cartier youth center

Except that there, it is “tired children” who are placed there, affirm our sources. When all three rooms are occupied – and this is common – a 17-year-old can be next to a 9-year-old, they say. Our sources add that it has already happened that an angry teenager began to insult and threaten the child occupying the adjacent room.

“You have a teenager who is 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds next to a 9 year old who weighs 50 pounds and the teenager shouts at him: ‘Shut your eyes, I’m going to break your eye, my tabarnak,’ describes one of our sources. It’s unhealthy. »

“There is no rehabilitation taking place there. (…) Nothing justifies using these rooms (for withdrawal),” according to Pierre-Luc Carrier, president of APTS Laval, a union which notably represents educators in youth centers.

In interview with The Press, the Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) of Laval confirms that it uses isolation rooms to isolate children. We recognize that this is not ideal. But we ensure that a caregiver is present with the child at all times and that the objective is for the time there to be as short as possible.

Deputy director of the youth program at the CISSS de Laval, Annie Dion emphasizes that the facilities at the Cartier youth center are “obsolete”. “If we had another building, we obviously would not use these premises. The premises are outdated (and are) actually not suitable for the clientele accommodated,” she says.


The Cartier youth center, in Laval

Built in 1971 with the aim of housing young delinquents, the Cartier youth center “is a very prison-like two-story building,” recognizes Dion. In 2021, the CISSS de Laval also submitted a plan to the Ministry of Health and Social Services to rejuvenate its facilities (see other text).

Empty unit in “secure sector”

In the meantime, the unease among several employees of the Cartier youth center is significant, confirms the union leader, Mme Bourque, who notably represents the intervention agents of the CISSS de Laval.

Our members are affected by this. It is not normal.

Nathalie Bourque, president of the Laval Workers’ Union

Mme Bourque does not understand why children are sent to these isolation rooms while a living unit is completely empty at the Cartier youth center. This was completely renovated in 2023 to accommodate the Le Jardin unit, intended for customers living with severe disabilities. This unit was urgently closed last December following the launch of a police investigation into mistreatment.

Read the article “New allegations of mistreatment in a Laval center”

The Le Jardin unit is located in the “secure sector” of the Cartier youth center. Where young offenders in particular stay. The CISSS de Laval therefore does not want to send young people there under youth protection, explains Mme Dion. According to Mr. Carrier, from APTS Laval, the use of isolation rooms rather than the withdrawal unit was to be “temporary”. “But it’s not at all,” he laments.


Two successive steel doors allow a child to be locked inside the rooms whose only furniture is a concrete bed base.

Professor at the School of Social Work and associate member of the Department of Pediatrics at McGill University, Delphine Collin-Vézina believes that the situation described by our sources does not correspond to “good practice” and is “worrying”. However, she does not want to throw stones at them. “We can have well-intentioned managers and stakeholders, but who work in dilapidated places, not designed to allow good practices,” she adds. At some point, we must position ourselves as a society by recognizing that this is an unacceptable living environment for children who have the greatest needs. »

“If I set up a room like that in my basement to lock my children there when they are bored,” concludes one of our sources, “they would call the DPJ and I would end up in prison. »


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