When bailiffs arrived at the apartment in Granby to serve an eviction order on Feb. 14, 2019, they discovered filthy, unsanitary conditions and a 17-year-old so feeble and badly undernourished he couldn't stand on his own.
The boy's mother, who also has two younger children, was swiftly taken into police custody and charged with a raft of offences. She would later admit having beaten the 17-year-old with a metal bar.
Doctors soon discovered a chilling array of injuries including open wounds, a broken tooth, and dozens of fractures. He had calluses on his knees from crawling. One of the physicians would later tell a judge it was the worst case of abuse she'd seen in her career.
The mother pleaded guilty to three charges in May — aggravated assault, criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessaries of life — on Friday, the 39-year-old Granby resident was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Her name is the subject of a publication ban, which is intended to safeguard the identity of her children.
According to Dr. Francis Livernoche, who testified at a sentencing hearing and cared for the boy during his two-month stay in hospital, the now 18-year-old has made a remarkable recovery.
"How can one live through so much adversity and become a radiant, personable, helpful, loving young man? When a young person carries that [inner] light and when he is cared for, it's truly possible to change a negative trajectory," Livernoche told Radio-Canada. "But this boy's incredible resilience shouldn't overshadow the fact he lived through some of the worst abuse imaginable."
Livernoche, who was among the first doctors to treat the boy, likened his emaciated state to that of a concentration camp survivor during a sentencing hearing earlier this fall.
Questions about child protection
The case has raised several pointed questions about Quebec's policies and institutions when it comes to protecting children from parental abuse.
According to the evidence presented in court, the Estrie branch of Quebec's child protection services agency (the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse or DPJ) was contacted at least 10 times about the 17-year-old, with the first notifications dating back to 2008.
A few months after the 17-year-old was discovered, Granby police were called to another shocking scene: a 7-year-old girl suffering from injuries that would eventually prove fatal. Her father and stepmother are to stand trial next year.
That girl's death — and the public outcry that followed it — prompted the government to launch a special inquiry into child protection services in Quebec.
A request to the CIUSSS-Estrie CHU de Sherbrooke, which oversees the local DPJ, as to whether internal investigations have led to any new insights received the following response: "for reasons of confidentiality ... we are not able to comment on specific cases."
The boy was also removed from the school system in 2017, allegedly because he was being bullied.
It's not clear any home schooling took place, however.
Livernoche said school is often the best safety net for at-risk children, and that social isolation often accompanies abuse.
During her testimony, the mother indicated she had co-operated with the DPJ, and claimed she hadn't lifted a hand to her son before Feb. 11, 2019.
She said the months prior to her arrest had been a struggle: "I isolated myself. I was alone with my three kids and I crashed. I didn't realize I needed help," she testified.
At one point she broke down into sobs and said she felt "disgusted with myself. In the end, I should have protected him and that's not what I did, I hurt him."
The Crown had asked for a sentence of 12 years, whereas the defence had proposed three to five years.