Members of Montreal’s Nigerian community are demanding a public inquiry into the death of a five-year-old boy who was under the care of Quebec’s youth protection services when he drowned in a pool at a home in Pierrefonds last month.
They’re alleging the case has received little attention, especially in comparison to the response to the death a week later of a seven-year-old Granby girl who was being followed by youth protection.
In that case, Premier François Legault personally ordered a public coroner’s inquest, in addition to three other investigations already underway: a criminal investigation, an internal investigation by the local health authority and another investigation by the province’s human and youth rights commission.
In the case of the boy who drowned, a coroner is investigating the circumstances and will issue a report — but that’s it.
The two cases are very different, but Osa Osifo, president of the Edo People Association of Montreal, which represents the Nigerian community, noted Thursday that both involve children who died while under the care of youth protection.
“Justice is for everyone. If the other girl can get that publicity, and the government can get involved the way they did, I see no reason why they shouldn’t have gotten involved with this black child,” Osifo told reporters at a news conference.
Parents get little information
Police said the boy and his 10-year-old brother were among a group of children playing in a backyard when the younger boy fell into an in-ground pool.
The 10-year-old tried to help his younger brother, but it was too late. The little boy drowned, and the older boy was taken to hospital. He was in a coma but has since recovered.
What authorities didn’t reveal at the time was that the two boys — from a family of Nigerian refugee claimants from — were in the youth protection system, staying with a foster family. They had wandered from the foster family home to another home where the drowning occurred.
“Somebody was responsible for taking care of these kids, and that person has to come out and make an explanation of what happened,” Pius Enihoma, the association’s vice-president, said.
Enihoma said the family of the boy who drowned feels abandoned.
“The parents right now, they don’t know what’s going on. You took my child from me, and you brought him back dead. No explanation of what happened. The only thing they told them was that he drowned,” he said.
“We want answers.”
Community worries about boy’s brother
The boy’s older brother is now staying with a family in the Nigerian community, but Enihoma and Osifo are worried about what will happen to him.
“What shocked me was that no one from Batshaw [Youth and Family Centres] or the department of youth protection came to the hospital to see how the child was faring,” Osifo said.
“Now that he’s well, youth protection still wants custody of him. That bothers me.”
Osifo said the community intends to help the boy’s family fight in court to get him back.
No plans for public inquiry
“We reiterate that this is a tragic and unfortunate accident that should never happen,” said Ariadne Bourbonnière, spokesperson for the Montréal West Island Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre, which oversees Batshaw’s youth and family services, in an email to CBC News.
“We cannot grant interviews to discuss specific cases, nor can we confirm whether a file was open,” she said.
A spokesperson for Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault told CBC News in an email that the government had no plans to order a public inquiry in this case.
A spokesperson for the minister responsible for social services, Lionel Carmant, would not comment on the case but pointed out that the ministry is setting up a committee to review all aspects of child protection services in the province, partially in response to the Granby girl’s death.
Boy’s funeral today
CBC News cannot show a photograph of the boy who died, but Ehinoma showed reporters a photograph of him at the news conference.
He’s standing with his arms at his side, clutching a toy in one hand, an uncertain smile on his face. He’s wearing socks, jeans, a black vest and a red hoodie.
The boy’s funeral was today.
It was delayed because his family wasn’t sure how to pay for it.
In the end, Batshaw agreed to pay for the funeral.
A crowdfunding campaign for the girl who died in Granby raised more than $10,000 to cover the costs of her funeral.