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Family escapes domestic violence, denied youth protection services in English

Family escapes domestic violence, denied services in English
WATCH: A Montreal mother and son who escaped domestic violence say they were denied English services at the Centre Jeunesse de Montréal. As Global's Anne Leclair reports, language rights activists are calling it a case of clear discrimination.

A Montreal family is speaking out about their fight to get youth protection services in English. After escaping domestic violence in 2010, the family was sent to the Centre Jeunesse de Montréal, where they were provided with unilingual francophone caseworkers. The family filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission but the case was dismissed. Minority-rights groups are now calling for an independent investigation into the commission’s decision.

“We believe there has been a serious miscarriage of justice,” executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) Fo Niemi said. “We believe there should be an external independent review of how the commission conducted the investigation into this case.”

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The woman works for Batshaw Youth and Family Centres which is why she and her then seven-year-old son were sent to another youth protection centre when they needed help.

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“Batshaw referred her case to the Centre Jeunesse de Montréal to avoid conflict of interest,” Niemi said. “There were arrangements made to ensure she would get bilingual services.”

But after repeated requests to be served in her mother tongue, and despite a clear policy that should have provided bilingual services, the woman insists she was constantly told her level of French was “good enough” and therefore denied services in English.

“Instead of dealing with my fears and safety issue in protecting my son, it became a language issue,” she told Global News. “‘Madame, of course you speak French,’ ‘Oh you speak enough French so don’t worry, we understand you,’ but I didn’t understand them.”

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The family filed a complaint with the Quebec human rights commission and after a four-year investigation, the case was dismissed on the basis that there was insufficient evidence and that the lack of English services didn’t stop them from being understood.

CRARR is now calling on the Quebec government to step in and look into what went wrong at the human rights commission.

“Is there a pattern because they’re anglophones or black anglophones that led to a deep-rooted system of not being looked at properly?” Niemi said. “The case has a lot of disturbing irregularities.”

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The family was eventually transferred in 2011 to the Centre Jeunesse de la Montérégie, on Montreal’s south shore, where the mother and son were finally able to access services in English. But they feel their complaint may have been dismissed since the commission’s chairman at the time the decision was rendered in January, was the former executive director of the Centre Jeunesse de la Montérégie. Camil Picard resigned just last week over allegations of sexual misconduct.

“We wonder if there was a conflict of interest, serious ethical breeches,” Niemi said.

The vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) is disappointed by the commission’s decision, but not surprised. “The Quebec Human Rights Commission is actually part of a larger system which plays into the idea that we shouldn’t indulge people for acting out and not speaking French,” QCGN’s vice-president Geoffrey Chambers said.

The English-rights group is hoping new provincial regulation expected to be adopted in the coming weeks will put a stop to language-based discrimination with the creation of regional access committees.

“We really want to see service plans put in place in all the institutions in Quebec,” Chambers said. “That would result in every case being received by an institution that has resources to deal with it properly.”

Meanwhile, the mother and her now 15-year-old son are hoping that speaking out will avoid others from facing the same nightmare.

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“I would like that no other family goes through what I did,” she said. “I would like an independent investigation.”

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