Indigenous teen speaks out against mistreatment during quarantine at Batshaw youth centre
MONTREAL -- An Indigenous teen in the care of youth and family services is speaking out after he says he was quarantined due to COVID-19 back in May in a windowless basement room without privacy or access to the outdoors for nearly four days.
The teen also said he didn't have access to his cellphone until his teacher intervened.
“When I saw the conditions he was living in, I left and I was shaken in my car. I had to take a few moments to compose myself and find out what to do,” the teacher said.
The Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) calls the teen’s treatment at the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres group home last spring cruel and unusual punishment.
CTV News is calling the teen Charles since his identity can’t be published.
At a press conference on Wednesday with his teacher, he described how he was placed in a room known as “the nest” because of COVID-19 protocols after he returned late from school
That room, he said, had no windows — only a glass partition that led to a hallway and a camera. He had to eat his meals on his bed and didn’t go outside for four days ..
His teacher visited him and only after the teacher spoke out did Charles get tested for COVID-19, which eventually came back negative.
Batshaw is run by the regional health authority, the CIUSSS, and its own service and quality complaints commission investigated what happened to Charles.
CRARR shared a redacted version of that report, which it acquired through an access to information request.
The report confirmed that during the pandemic, and according to the protocols, he was considered at risk and they were only testing youth with symptoms at the time.
It also stated that he had access to his personal computer and WiFi during his entire stay, and that he had time outside in a courtyard twice a day.
CRARR said the accounts differ, raising questions about transparency.
TEEN HOPES FOR 'CHANGES FOR THE BETTER'
Charles and his teacher spoke about why they decided to come forward publicly with his story.
“That it changes for the better of all the youth in the system so that they feel like they actually have a place to call home, even though it's not home, but a place to feel comfortable in, a place to be able to be yourself in, and not have to go through what me and other youth have gone through,” he said.
His teacher condemned the fact that Charles was only offered a COVID-19 test when it was demanded.
“He wasn't offered one as a natural function of being put in quarantine, it had to be requested and he mentioned the first one got lost which meant he had to stay in his basement room for a longer period of time and that just in itself is terrible,” he said.
Batshaw has been subject to investigations in the past about its treatment of Indigenous youth.
CRARR hopes an inquiry will shed light Batshaw's protocols and who should be held accountable in Charles’ case.
QUEBEC GOVERNMENT CALLED TO ACT
“We want minister Lionel Carmant to say something and more importantly do something,” said Fo Niemi, CRARR’s executive director.
“We feel if the situation of Indigenous youth in care has been reported and discussed publicly for months and years now, how come the government has not done anything much more decisive and more concrete in order to resolve this.”
CTV reached out to the office of Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s Junior Minister for Health and Social Services. His press attaché directed CTV to the regional health authority.
Katherine Moxness, the director of the youth program at the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, wouldn't speak directly about this case, citing confidentiality.
In general terms, she said youth in quarantine had lots of access to technology including iPads. She said the camera was not functioning and has since been removed, and that the COVID-19 quarantine protocol at Batshaw, including testing, has evolved since May.
“When a youth is [suspected of having the coronavirus] we have to ensure that we're keeping all the others safe and the staff safe so in keeping with the ministry guidelines and in keeping with infection control and public health recommendations a 14-day period of isolation was recommended,” Moxness said.
“And so that evolved over time and today I can report that the protocols are different because of the level of vaccination rates in our environments.”
Niemi said CRARR's formal request for an investigation will be filed with the Quebec Human Rights Commission on Thursday.
He hopes that it will lead to a thorough review of the practices at Batshaw and youth protection generally in Quebec.