Fourteen First Nations communities, in addition to the Inuit, prefer to repatriate children’s services to their homes by the path laid out by Ottawa, rather than that advocated by Quebec. A standoff is emerging over whether the Legault government will agree to negotiate with them under federal law C-92, adopted in 2019 and challenged in court.

These 14 communities no longer wish to be subject to the Directorates of Youth Protection (DYP). They represent about half of the member communities of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, excluding those who signed historic treaties with Quebec, such as the Cree of James Bay. To this it is possible to add the Inuit of northern Quebec, where the Makivik Corporation has made a similar request for several villages in Nunavik.

“The difference is between more autonomy, which Quebec [propose], or full autonomy, what the federal law says, ”summarizes Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, in an interview with Duty.

This is an important distinction for these communities, since the federal route gives them the right to adopt their own youth protection policy, which includes the aspect of prevention of abuse. A twelve-month period of negotiations with the province and the federal government followed to establish the necessary funding.

The difference is between more autonomy, which Quebec [propose], or full autonomy, what federal law says

The very first “coordination agreement” was reached in Saskatchewan, and was announced on July 6 with Ottawa funding of $ 38.7 million. For their part, the Quebec communities are only at the first stage, namely the filing of a “notice of intention”.

“The will of the aboriginal communities is very clear: we will proceed with the government, ultimately, which will put the money,” said Chief Picard.

Quebec path

Before the entry into force of the federal law, on 1is January 2020, the First Peoples had only one way to obtain autonomy in the youth protection file: to reach an agreement with Quebec. Under section 37.5 of the Quebec Youth Protection Act (YPA), a nation or a community can enter into an agreement to establish its own system.

So far, only the Atikamekw of Manawan and Wemotaci have concluded this kind of agreement with Quebec. Their Atikamekw colleagues from Opitciwan preferred the federal route. “We worked 20 years [pour conclure ces ententes avec Québec]. It was not easy, ”recalls the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation, Constant Awashish, who represents the three communities.

If his nation has “a wicked head start on any nation” in this matter, he perceives these agreements with Quebec as “a good start”, “a model that can be taken up” for a shift towards “the evolution ”represented by federal law. But even when going through Ottawa, “you still have to have good collaboration from the provinces,” warns Constant Awashish, especially for the processing of cases of children outside the communities.

However, the Government of Quebec is requesting a referral, that is to say, it is challenging the constitutionality of the federal law before the courts. The case is due to be heard in Superior Court in September. In the meantime, requests can proceed to the federal government, although collaboration with Quebec remains uncertain, in the opinion of the First Nations.

“Unfortunately for us there is a lack [de la part de] Quebec to really want to work in partnership with the First Nations, ”said Richard Gray, manager of social services with the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission. “They [les responsables du Québec] still act as colonizers. “

Prevention

According to this specialist in the file, the majority of cases of DYP are caused by social determinants of health, such as poverty or lack of housing. The solution would thus lie in better prevention policies and a community approach, which the federal approach favors. Quebec, according to him, would see the problem from the strict angle of youth protection, that is, cases of abuse and extreme neglect.

“It is clear, in the report of the Laurent commission, that prevention is a big lack in the approach to help the family, ”he insists.

This report records alarming statistics on the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in DYP cases. They are seven times more at risk of ending up with foster families in Quebec. Nationwide, they represent 52% of children in care, but 7.7% of those under 15, according to the 2016 census.

The office of the Quebec minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, did not specify Duty whether or not he intended to participate in the consultations provided for by federal law and the communities concerned. Quebec agrees with the principle, but disagrees with “the form” of C-92. Ministers Carmant (delegate for Health and Social Services) and Lafrenière are “very open to [la conclusion] other agreements similar to those concluded with the Atikamekw ”, the path favored by Quebec.

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