West Island lawyer Valerie Assouline has always practiced family law.However, since she took on the pro bono representation of the mother and grandmother of the seven-year-old Granby girl whose death prompted the establishment of the Laurent Commission to reform the Department of Youth Protection (DYP), she has been “flooded” with calls from mothers who have not only been the victims of conjugal violence but who have also been victimized by the Department of Youth Protection.
In a lengthy interview with The Suburban, Assouline explained that this is the reason she is appearing before the Laurent Commission tomorrow and has made a point of getting the mothers’ messages out in print and electronic media. She accuses the DYP of letting itself be “weaponized” by abusive husbands, by prioritizing “parental alienation” over conjugal violence.
Though she cannot speak about the specifics of her cases or mention any identifying characteristics because the Youth Protection Act demands silence, ostensibly to protect the interests of children involved, she was free to discuss the general modus operandi of how the DYP is being manipulated. In some six cases the profile is strikingly similar.
In perhaps the most egregious case she is handling — and one very representative of the others — Assouline described a mother and two children who were all victims of violence at the hands of their husband and father. The husband moved out and divorce proceedings were instituted.The children were so traumatized by their father’s violence they refused to see him. They were excellent students and happy and healthy young teens. The husband turned to the DYP and argued in Youth Court that his ex-wife was “alienating” the children from him. The wife argued that she was not, but that the children wanted nothing to do with him, given his history of violence.
The Youth Court ordered that the children be taken from the mother, placed into separate group homes and forced to meet their father under supervision until a relationship with him was re-established. The mother was stripped of all her rights and authority over the children and, since the children’s placement, has not been allowed to see or to speak to them. Over four months after the children’s placement, their health has deteriorated and their grades have plummeted.The Youth Court judge refused to give any weight to these facts in order to rectify the situation. The judge also refused to hear from the children.
Assouline said she had another five cases with a profile as tragic as the one outlined above. She said that this “weaponization” is turning into a virus in Youth Courts. She passionately made the point that the fundamental basis of family law is the “best interests of the child” and that if children are old enough — not of majority age just old enough to be understood — they must be heard.Indeed in The Suburban’s verification of the law, including discussions with family law attorneys and professionals from within the DYP system whose identities we agreed to keep anonymous, all were of one mind that both Article 34 of the Civil Code of Quebec and the Quebec Charter of Rights give children the right to be heard as an essential component of “the best interests of the child.” Youth Courts uniformly assign attorneys to children, but all too frequentlydo not let the children speak.
Assouline repeated to The Suburban what she has said so often in interviews and what she intends to tell the Commission, that “What I see in youth protection today is violence from the institution towards the children. I’ve seen how Youth protection is sometimes used as a weapon by abusive parents. I see this every day. “ She added that no public institution — not hospitals nor schools — “would be allowed to continue with as high a failure rate as Youth Protection.”
Assouline concluded with comments that she recently posted on social media. “I am not on a crusade. But I am fed up of seeing parents fighting to have normalcy with their children ! I am asking that all social workers respect the laws as well as human rights and that they be held accountable for their actions!”