By Pierre Saint-Arnaud
The family of a seven-year-old Quebec girl who was killed in 2019 is suing the provincial youth protection agency and the local school board for $3.7 million, claiming they failed to act despite numerous warning signs.
“When you see your child with burns, bruises and you bring the report to youth protection and they deny the fact that your child has bruises, they deny the fact that she has burns, they deny the fact that this child is being beaten, that she is being abused,” the girl’s mother said Monday.
Speaking to reporters from behind a screen adorned with stuffed animals, the mother said, “A child who goes from 45 pounds when she is not even four years old to 27 pounds on her hospital bed, there is something not normal.” The mother cannot be named because Quebec’s Youth Protection Act prevents the identification of all youth under care.
The girl was found in critical condition in her family home in Granby, Que., about 80 kilometres east of Montreal, on April 29, 2019; she died one day later in hospital. She had been known to youth protection officials, who had left her in the custody of her father despite several reports of violence.
The young victim, who was abused and malnourished, died of asphyxiation after being wrapped in layers of duct tape before her death.
The killing sparked outrage, raised questions about the province’s ability to protect vulnerable children, and led to a wide-ranging inquiry into the youth protection system.
“They didn’t listen to her. They did not seek the truth. They ran away,” the mother said. “A child who would have been 11 today, gone at age seven because a government failed to do what it had to do.”
4 workers, including manager, named in lawsuit
The lawsuit was filed Monday by lawyer Valerie Assouline at the Granby courthouse on behalf of the girl’s biological mother and paternal grandparents. It names as respondents the CIUSSS de l’Estrie — the health board responsible for youth protection in the region — as well as the Val-des-Cerfs school board and four youth protection workers, including a department manager.
“The death of the little girl from Granby was a death that was avoidable,” Assouline said, adding that what happened to the girl is the worst case of abuse in Quebec in the past 100 years.
The youngster’s case had been the subject of several reports to youth protection, beginning as early as 2014. The mother and paternal grandmother had alerted various authorities. As well, police, school workers and neighbours had been made aware of the girl’s situation.
But authorities elected to keep her with her father and his spouse. Her school sent her to be homeschooled a month before her killing, because she was proving difficult to manage.
The school made several reports to youth protection over a three-year span because the girl was verbalizing the treatment she was receiving. She would scrounge for food, be forced to take very hot or cold showers, urinate on the floor or in a small pot in her room, and would come to school wearing dirty clothes, with bruises or with blood in her nose.
Despite this, Assouline noted, “the situation recommended by the adults who were responsible for protecting her, by those who themselves reported these shocking facts to youth protection, was to send her back to homeschool, knowing that her living environment put her in danger.”
“Her only safety net had been taken away from her; a month later she died,” the lawyer said.
The girl’s paternal grandmother said the lawsuit was aimed at holding responsible all of those people who were supposed to protect the girl and didn’t.
“No amount will compensate for the loss of our granddaughter,” she said from behind a makeshift screen. “On the other hand, it is high time that those who are responsible for protecting our children learn a lesson and that in the future, they actually do it.”
Last December, the girl’s 38-year-old stepmother was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole for 13 years, while the girl’s father pleaded guilty to a lesser count of forcible confinement and received a four-year sentence.
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