Photo: Darren Calabrese Archives The Canadian Press The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, during a press conference held on the sidelines of the annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations, in Halifax, July 12, 2023
The creation by Quebec of a commissioner for the well-being and rights of children is being done “without the consent” of indigenous communities, deplores the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (APNQL) . “It’s extremely trying,” said its boss, Ghislain Picard, on Wednesday.
The latter presented himself to the parliamentary committee with a knife between his teeth. On the second day of the study of Bill 37 “on the commissioner for the welfare and rights of children”, he was particularly harsh with regard to the government's intentions to create a position of “associate commissioner » to indigenous issues subject to the national commissioner.
“Today we will allow ourselves to be very critical,” Mr. Picard told the Minister responsible for Social Services, Lionel Carmant. “In [their] current form, the functions provided for […] this associate commissioner will be limited to assisting and advising the commissioner to whom he will report. »
A situation that surprises the main spokesperson for the AFNQL, in the context where, in 2021, the Laurent commission on children's rights and youth protection proposed “that communities who wish to do so can benefit from a independent commissioner”.
Also visiting the National Assembly on Wednesday, the Makivvik Corporation, which represents the Inuit of Nunavik, also did not mince its words when the time came to offer its comments on Bill 37. “This new institution is useless,” she emphasized in her brief. “Certainly relevant for the children of Quebec, this mandate nevertheless appears disconcertingly timid when placed in the context of the disadvantage of childhood in Nunavik. »
Chief Picard criticizes Minister Carmant for failing in his duty to listen to Indigenous communities when developing his bill last year. “A bit like regional head Picard mentioned to you before, we don't have the impression of having been heard much either,” said the executive advisor to the president of Makivvik, Jean-François Arteau.
“It is deplorable to note the persistence of this government in debating that it is the only one able to exercise in this field of jurisdiction, while the Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed the inherent right […] to self-government of First Nations in the field of child and family services,” noted Ghislain Picard on Wednesday.
Almost two years ago, the Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed the right of Indigenous nations to provide their own youth protection services, under a federal bill adopted in 2019. Contested by the Quebec government , the law has since come under the microscope of the Supreme Court of Canada, which is expected to issue a decision on the matter this week.
The AFNQL invokes its “right to self-determination” in the context of services to Indigenous youth. This is also why she opposed the establishment of an advisory committee of young Aboriginal people to advise the new commissioner for children's well-being and rights; rather, she advocates for a fully autonomous commissioner. “The First Nations have never ceded their rights or delegated to the government of Quebec the exercise of their rights. They never consented to him adopting a non-independent institution to take charge of the well-being of their children in their place,” argued Ghislain Picard on Wednesday.
In parliamentary committee, Minister Carmant made a point of assuring the groups representing the First Nations and Inuit of his collaboration. “If we can rephrase things to say that the commissioner would play an autonomous role, could that be a possible solution, in your opinion?” he asked Chief Picard.
Bill 37 will be the subject of detailed studies in the coming weeks. The elected representatives of the commission will then be able to make amendments.
At the end of the day Tuesday, the Ombudsman, Marc-André Dowd, requested that the appointment of the associate commissioner dedicated to First Nations or Inuit children be “postponed until the consultation process is deemed satisfactory by all parties involved.”
In an interview with Le Devoir on Wednesday, the President of Quebec, Catherine Claveau, also pleaded for a “completely independent” position. “[Someone] who would not be deputy, under the commissioner,” she clarified. Someone who would obviously be Indigenous and who would have full autonomy regarding issues that concern Indigenous children. »
The president feels a “listening” in youth protection
The President of Quebec, Catherine Claveau, feels that the Quebec government is “listening” to the issue of youth protection.
Last fall, she was rebuffed by the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, for having sent him a letter emphasizing the “urgency to act” in the matter. “It’s not just the Quebec Bar that has the monopoly on finding solutions,” he said in the press scrum.
Almost half a year later, Me Claveau believes she was listened to by the Quebec government. “We had a meeting with the Minister of Justice and some of his representatives to see together if there are solutions that we could put forward to improve things,” she said Wednesday in interview with Le Devoir. “That’s why we decided to release this in the fall. It wasn't moving quickly. »
According to President Claveau, there are always personnel problems among youth protection lawyers, just as among judges. But the phenomenon has its roots in the health and social services network, where too little money is devoted to prevention, while an increase in investment would relieve congestion in courthouses, she considers.
A few weeks before the tabling of the Quebec budget, Mr. Claveau is asking Quebec to open the pockets of its purse and focus more on mediation in youth protection. “That will solve part of the problem,” she assures.