Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik October 19, 2016 - 6:59 am

Alcoholism, abuse, neglect threaten Nunavik children: human rights commission

"And the solutions cannot come from [Quebec]"

In a letter to Quebec ministers, the head of the province's human rights commission says that the problems associated with education, housing and drinking in this region are putting Nunavimmiut youth in serious danger. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
In a letter to Quebec ministers, the head of the province's human rights commission says that the problems associated with education, housing and drinking in this region are putting Nunavimmiut youth in serious danger. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Translated and re-published with the permission of La Presse

The president of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, Camil Picard, recently wrote to several Couillard government ministers, saying the safety and development of children in Nunavik are threatened, La Presse [Quebec’s leading daily newpaper] has learned.

Picard had returned from a trip to Nunavik, from which he drew an undeniable conclusion: the problems associated with education, housing and drinking in this region are putting youth in serious danger. And the solutions cannot “come from the Grande Allée,” [home to Quebec’s National Assembly] but from the communities involved.


Nearly 10 years after its devastating report, an “urgent appeal” and “shocking witness” to “endemic” suicide and violence in Nunavik, the Commission concluded “that there are still big problems” within the child welfare system north of the 55th parallel in 2016.

Since its first report, “things have progressed, moved backwards, made a little small step to one side,” said Picard in an interview. “There are long waiting lists. There are reports which have been made and which are not assessed. There are conditions that are not followed. It’s clear, we saw that.”


For Picard, three serious problems undermine the lives of young Inuit in Quebec. First, education.

“There is a huge rate of absenteeism” among teachers, he said. “More than two days a week” have been cancelled since the beginning of the year in some classes. With results that aren’t limited to poor academic performance. Youth who can’t go to class “do the same thing as young people in the South when they are left to their own devices: They get into trouble, or they drink, or they sniff [solvents],” said Picard.

“And this is an extremely important issue, and one that we plan to raise with the education department and the Kativik School Board,” the local school board.

Not afraid to speak up, Picard uses significantly different language than that usually used by public stakeholders to discuss such issues.

“If an Inuit teacher drinks at night and is not able to return to work in the morning, that leads to school absenteeism. If it’s a white teacher, who leaves home in the morning to take her child to the child care centre, but the child care centre is closed because the educator or two educators partied the night before. So she can’t go to work as a teacher because she has to care for her own child. So it’s a vicious circle,” he said in a telephone interview.


Another serious problem: “There is a shortfall of 1,028 homes in the 14 Inuit communities in northern Quebec. We’re talking about 15, 20, 25 people in houses,” Picard said. In Nunavik, the vast majority of residents rent social housing. And there is not enough of that to go around.

“This is a very serious, deadly mix: violence, child protection, abuse, neglect,” Picard said. “I have witnessed situations where children, eight to 15 years, at 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. at night, strolled the streets drunk, because inside their homes, their families were drunk and there was violence. To protect themselves, they went outside.”


The third issue, linked to the other two: alcohol consumption. Picard praised mayors who have chosen to restrict the sale of alcohol in their communities.

“If the political leaders [local] do not make decisions about drinking, we will continue to put a bandage on a huge cut,” he said. “The solutions cannot come from the Grande-Allée in Quebec City. All the studies, all the reports say the same thing.”


These problems are so widespread in Nunavik’s 14 communities that managing child placements has become challenging, so much so that some young people, “have been paraded from one host family to another dozens of times. ”

“In the situation of a youth who I will not name, but who has been signaled [reported to child protection], the youth was placed with his uncle and aunt. There were about 20 people in the house. At one point, because of alcohol, his uncle began hitting his own children. The Department of Youth Protection, the next day, had to move the couple’s children and the nephew who had just arrived.”


The president of the Commission of Human Rights and Youth Rights plans to continue reporting to the Quebec minister responsible for youth protection, as well as the ministers responsible for education and Aboriginal Affairs, so they will also be informed of his findings.

Reached Thursday, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, responsible for local youth protection services, refused an interview with La Presse.

“Young people are among our priorities in our strategic planning,” wrote a spokesperson in an email, referring to a “vision of developing services linked to practices and Inuit values in order to promote the empowerment of communities.”


Minnie Grey, the executive director of the regional board, did talk about this last month in Nunatsiaq News.

“At the moment, we’ve seen quite an increase in the need for foster care,” she said. “We’re trying to the best of our ability to make sure they’re not sent out of the region. But we have a big shortage of foster homes… We have a backlog of children that have nowhere to go. And that’s sad.”

Picard told La Presse about a crisis that took place last month on the Hudson coast where they struggled to find foster homes for 23 children aged, “between two months and four to five years. The social workers were forced to keep the children, changing diapers, feeding them. That, for 24 hours a day. It lasted more than a week,” he said.

This is translation into English, by Nunatsiaq News, of an article that appeared Oct. 17 in the Quebec French-language newspaper La Presse Oct. 17.

You can read the original story here. 

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