MONTREAL — The mother of two deceased boys whose father is accused of killing them is seeking $2 million from the Quebec government, alleging youth protection services failed her family.
In a lawyer's letter dated Friday, Émilie Arsenault accused Quebec's youth protection service of failing to act despite the fact the agency had been allegedly contacted three times prior to her children's deaths.
The letter addressed to the Health Department and the regional authority responsible for youth protection said the provincial agency had been alerted by a hospital worker, provincial police and the mother, between May 2018 and January 2020.
Valérie Assouline, the lawyer representing Arsenault, says youth protection workers did not visit the family at home after any of the calls, adding that the protection service decided to close the files involving the family without taking further action. The system, she says, needs to be held responsible for its failures.
"I don’t think the kids should have to pay with their lives because the system was not working," she said Monday in a phone interview.
The bodies of Olivier, 5, and Alex, 2, were found Oct. 13, 2020, in a home in Wendake, Que., a Huron-Wendat First Nation territory near Quebec City.
Their father, Michaël Chicoine, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
The details involving what led to the calls to youth protection are subject to a publication ban due to the ongoing court process.
In the letter, the mother said the "wilful blindness of the entire system cost Olivier and Alex their lives" and caused irreparable harm to both the children and their mom.
The Health Department on Monday declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal process.
Assouline represents other families in similar circumstances, including the mother of a seven-year-old girl from Granby, Que., whose 2019 death triggered a widespread re-examination of province’s youth protection system. A commission on children's rights and youth protection released a 552-page report last May, saying the girl's death was a collective failure of Quebec society.
Assouline said junior health minister Lionel Carmant was "very aware" of the problems in the youth protection system, but didn't act quickly enough.
"The lack of training of the case workers," she said. "(Carmant) was aware of the delays that were unreasonable. He had to act immediately."
Assouline said the system underplays allegations of intimate partner violence, often categorizing it as a "parental conflict" instead of the risk factor it is.
She said she recognizes the $2 million her client is asking for is a higher figure than is usually demanded in such cases, but she said an "exemplary" judgment is needed to ensure a similar situation never happens again. Arsenault, she added, is well aware that no amount of money can bring back her children.
"She’s not necessarily doing (this) for a question of money, but a question of imputability, of making sure someone is responsible for failing to protect the children," Assouline said.
"Because she tried to. What more could she do?"
Assouline said that if the government doesn't respond to the letter, the next step is to file a lawsuit.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2022.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press