By Jeff Pelletier
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Quebec’s Human and Youth Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the alleged abuse of an Inuk youth at a Montreal rehabilitation centre.
The commission is looking into allegations that the youth was placed in isolation for extended periods of time while staying at the Batshaw Youth and Family Centre.
The youth’s health declined during that time and he was barred from speaking his mother tongue, states a news release from the commission.
The commission announced the investigation on Wednesday. It did not provide further details about the allegations or about its investigation.
Two Montreal based organizations released details about the allegations at a news conference on Sept. 23.
According to Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, the youth is a teenage boy from Nunavik. Niemi hosted the news conference along with Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
They did not disclose the boy’s name or the community he is from.
The pair allege that in April, the youth was put in an isolated room as punishment for his behaviour. During that time, they allege staff limited his time outdoors and told him not to speak Inuktitut with his friends.
They allege that the youth developed a health issue. The condition worsened and one of the boy’s testicles was surgically removed.
The allegations stem from an anonymous tip Nieme and Nakuset received from an employee of the Batshaw Youth and Family Centre.
Nakuset equated the boy’s treatment at Batshaw to a modern-day
“It’s really difficult to not be able to speak your language, to be isolated, to be in enormous amount of pain, and this is life-changing for this young man,” she said.
“The system is hoping to be helping him, and that’s not what happens.”
Nunatsiaq News was unable to set up an interview with the youth for this story, but Niemi said he wants to eventually speak to journalists about his experiences.
The Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre of the West Island of Montreal, which runs Batshaw, also declined comment while the investigation is ongoing.
In an email in French, spokesperson Helene Bergeron-Gamache said the centre plans to fully co-operate with the investigation.
“Safety and cultural diversity, as well as inclusion, are fundamental principles of our establishment and no behaviour that goes against them is accepted,” Bergeron-Gamache wrote.
Both Nakuset and Niemi have raised allegations of abuse toward Indigenous youth at Batshaw for years.
Last year, another youth came forward to share his experience of being isolated in a room at Batshaw.
“I was treated like a criminal, a prisoner in solitary confinement,” the youth, who was not identified, said last year.
Niemi’s organization filed a human rights complaint in response to that incident in November 2021. There have been no updates to that case, Niemi said.
Both organizations are calling for more protections for youth in Quebec’s social services system. Despite calls for improvement, they say the opposite has happened.
“It’s getting worse,” Nakuset said.
“From what I hear, what is going on breaks my heart, and it’s incredibly damaging to the youth, and something needs to be done.”
Jeff Pelletier is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works for the
NUNATSIAQ NEWS. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.