Montreal youth protection centre under fire after teen placed in isolation
‘I was absolutely shocked that he was being held in a windowless basement,’ teacher says
An Inuk teen in the care of Montreal youth protection services was held in isolation in a windowless basement for several days last week over COVID-19 concerns.
The 16-year-old boy, who lives in a group home managed by Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, travelled to school by bus on May 25, unaware the school was shut due to a bridge closure in the area.
When he took a few hours to return home, Batshaw classified him as a COVID-19 risk and placed him in a 14-day isolation in the basement room of one of its facilities, said one of the student’s teachers.
The teacher, who asked not to be named to help protect the identify the student, discovered the student’s living conditions on May 26 when the teacher went to bring schoolwork to the quarantined teen.
“He was in a windowless basement room with a bed and chair,” the teacher told Nunatsiaq News.
“He wasn’t allowed books because they said there was a risk of COVID transmission. He had his personal cellphone that was taken away that was paid for by his employer.
“I was absolutely shocked that he was being held in a windowless basement,” the teacher added. “He had not seen the light of day.”
The teen’s teacher alerted the Montreal Indigenous Community Network, which organized a meeting with Batshaw officials two days later, on May 28.
Network spokesperson Amanda Moniz said in a news release that the organization was outraged at the teen’s isolation conditions. She added that the conditions were in violation of public health directives, as the youth did not come into contact with any confirmed case of COVID-19.
“We were not met with the same outrage,” Moniz said of the network’s meeting with Batshaw officials in a news release.
“We were repeatedly told to move on from the conversation of isolation rules because we were merely in disagreement and Batshaw was not going to modify its protocols.”
Shortly after the meeting the teen was moved to an above-ground room in the same building but remains in isolation, the network said.
Montreal’s West Island health and social services network, which oversees Batshaw, said the youth centre followed infection protocols based on government directives set to limit the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.
“When required, young people exposed and suspected of being infected with COVID-19 go into isolation … to prevent transmission of COVID to other young people,” network spokesperson Hélène Bergeron-Gamache wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“Isolation does not mean leaving young people by themselves. We assure the presence of an educator in addition to offering them several sources of entertainment.”
But the teen’s teacher said the youth was clearly isolated and not doing well.
“I had difficulty processing how he’s been treated,” the teacher said.
The incident comes just weeks after Quebec’s human rights commission released a report that found Inuit youth in care in the Montreal area face both social and cultural isolation.
The report called on youth protection services to ensure better access to education services, culturally relevant programming and more interactions in Inuktitut for those youth.
“We are working to strengthen our ties with our partners in the Indigenous community and are very sensitive to ensuring the cultural safety of the young people under our protection,” Bergeron-Gamache said.