Class action involving Quebec youth protection centres moves ahead

Claimants want $500,000 in compensation plus punitive damages

With the publication of a court-authorized notice last week, a class action lawsuit against the Quebec government concerning abuses alleged to have occurred in provincial youth protection centres over the last 73 years is proceeding, although potential suit members have until July 9 to opt out if they choose.

Alleged abuses

On September 7 last year, the Superior Court of Quebec authorized the action for damages against the government (represented by the attorney general of Quebec) and 16 integrated university health and social services centres (also known as IHSSC, IUHSSC, CISSS and CIUSSS).

(Photo: Quebec Youth Protection)

The action concerns abuses which are alleged to have occurred in youth protection centres throughout Quebec since 1950. A person is automatically a member of the class action if they meet all of the following criteria:

·         They were born on or after October 2, 1932.

·         They are not a member of a First Nation, an Inuit or a Métis.

·         They were under 18 years old when they were placed in a centre as per youth protection law.

·         During their placement at the centre,

·         They were sexually assaulted; and/or

·         They were subject to one or several of the following measures:

·         They were placed in solitary confinement;

·         They were confined in a common area of the centre;

·         They were locked up in their room;

·         They were locked up in another room or in a cell;

·         They were subject to the use of force, with or without the use of mechanical devices (for example, a straitjacket, handcuffs or shackles), of medication or of other chemical substances.

Excluded from lawsuit

Members of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, as well as Duplessis Orphans, cannot be included among the claimants as they may either have already received other financial compensation or signed a release under the National Reconciliation Program or programs offered to Duplessis Orphans.

For the purposes of the class action, the centres notably include youth protection schools or youth protection centres, reception centres, transition centres and rehabilitation centres.

However, hospital centres, group homes and foster families are not targeted by the class action. Mont d’Youville reception centre is also excluded from the action as it is already the focus of a separate and ongoing class action lawsuit. Finally, a person who was placed in a centre following youth criminal justice proceedings can not be a member of the class action.

Lead action claimant

The Superior Court appointed Eleanor Lindsay, after she initiated the suit in 2019, as the representative of all class members (the lead claimant). Lindsay claims she suffered sexual abuse and solitary confinement at two Quebec youth protection centres during the 1970s. She and the other claimants are asking for $500,000 in compensation plus punitive damages.

On their behalf, she claims that the Government of Quebec and the defendant centres are responsible for the systemic detention and abuse of children admitted into centres. She asks that the Superior Court order the Government of Quebec and the defendant centres to pay damages to the class members, including herself.

Investigative reports

The allegations are based largely on Montreal Gazette investigative news reports published during the mid-1970s which documented incidents of girls being punished with solitary confinement for often minor offenses, which sometimes allegedly included coughing, having nightmares or crying.

Quebec Superior Court has authorized a class action regarding a range of measures in youth protection centres

Those allegations and the defendants’ purported liability remain to be proven. In the coming years, unless the parties reach a settlement, the Superior Court will therefore be required to decide, following a trial, whether the defendants were at fault and whether and to what extent damages should be paid to the class members.

Deadline to opt out

If they do not want to be included in the class action and to obtain a payment if the class action is settled or granted by the court, class members may opt out at the latest at 4:30 pm on July 9. The means of opting out are specified in a full-length notice to the class members. All class members who will not have opted out prior to the expiry of this deadline will be bound by any judgment rendered in the class action. Responding in court to the allegations before the class action was authorized to proceed, lawyers for the Quebec government filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the basis the government could not be held responsible for the alleged abuses.