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Quebec minister preparing strategy to deal with increased violence in schools

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Quebec Education Minster Bernard Drainville says he is preparing a strategy to fight violence in schools.

Drainville made the announcement Friday during a question-and-answer session in the Quebec legislature, after Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy reported a rise in violent incidents across Quebec.

The MNA for Saint-Laurent explained that she had made access-to-information requests and obtained data on the seizure of weapons, such as guns, around schools.

In Laval, police seized 14 weapons in 2021-2022, compared to six in 2018-2019. In Repentigny, the seizures went from zero to 14 weapons seized in two years, she illustrated.

"There's no child who's going to learn with fear in their stomach, and then there's no staff member ... who's going to feel like staying if we don't send a clear message that we're taking the situation seriously," Rizqy said.

Drainville acknowledged that Quebec schools are facing "increasingly pressing challenges," saying he is "extremely concerned" about the violence, which he said could be the result of the pandemic.

"We are preparing a strategy to fight violence," he said. "I have asked my teams to come back to me as soon as possible with this strategy."

The minister said several "means are already in place." For example, police officers are present in some schools. "If it is necessary to add [means], we will add them," he said.

He rejected Rizqy's request to study the phenomenon in parliamentary committee and to consult the opposition parties before the strategy is tabled.

In addition, Drainville announced the creation of a telephone line for reports of sexual assault. An email address already exists: signalements@éducation.gouv.qc.ca.

The phone line will be activated in the next few days, the minister said, without giving further details.

Last Tuesday, Drainville launched an investigation "of general scope" following multiple reports and allegations of sexual misconduct in the school system.

In particular, he was questioned by Québec solidaire MNA Ruba Ghazal about sexual assaults allegedly committed against students at a high school in Cowansville, in the Eastern Townships.

On Friday, Rizqy asked the minister to have an independent firm conduct the investigation to dispel any appearance of conflict of interest.

Rizqy also raised the issue of dilapidated schools. She says she has already received several photos of dilapidated schools, two days after she launched a call to all on social networks.

The MNA took the initiative to ask for these photos last Wednesday, when Premier François Legault said he had doubts about the picture of dilapidated schools.

The proportion of buildings in poor or very poor condition in the education network has risen from 59 per cent to 61 per cent in one year, according to budget documents presented Tuesday.

When asked about this, Legault said he doubted that all of these schools were dilapidated. He suspects that school service centres are inflating needs to get more money.

The premier also announced that he has mandated his minister responsible for infrastructure, Jonatan Julien, to review the process of evaluating the state of disrepair in schools.

At a press conference at the National Assembly on Friday morning, Rizqy showed several photos that she believes prove that the situation is deteriorating in Quebec schools.

She showed photos of floors with holes and piles of mouse droppings.

The MNA said she remembers that when he was a radio host, the Education Minister Bernard Drainville, "did not doubt the dilapidated state of the schools."

Today, the minister says that he "of course" recognizes the problem: the government is planning $22 billion over 10 years for the renovation, expansion, reconstruction and construction of schools.

However, if paving and computer wiring problems were excluded, 400 schools would go from an E or D (very poor) rating to a C, B or even A (satisfactory), he said.

He said he questions the "methodology" used to rank schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 24, 2023.  

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