Ex-foster child account triggers Quebec investigation

CBC News has learned a Quebec Human Rights Commission investigation is raising serious concerns about foster children across the province.

The Commission's report – that followed the investigation – points to several failings at Batshaw Youth and Family Centres in this particular case.

The social services network places English-speaking children in foster care across the Greater Montreal area.

The commission's investigation was sparked by "Robert", a former foster child whose real identity is protected under the Youth Protection Act.

Robert alleges experiencing years of sexual abuse in his former foster home.

Robert, now 17, currently lives with his biological mother, and wants to return to school. But he's decided to share his story in the hopes it may help protect someone else.

Batshaw has been asked to report back to the Human Rights Commission regarding its investigation, by the end of March.

Boy keeps quiet in fear of 'losing the only home you really know'

Robert alleges his foster father sexually abused him, soon after he was placed in that home, north of Montreal, in the Laurentians.

"It started when I was about six, it happened probably on a twice-a-week, three-times-a-week basis" over six years, Robert said.

He didn't dare breathe a word about it at the time because "you're scared of losing the only home you really know."

Batshaw shut down the Laurentians foster home in 2006, after another child in the home reported abuse.

The foster father faced several charges involving several alleged victims.

But the Crown prosecutor stopped the legal proceedings.

"She told me there was conflicting testimony between a few of the children," Robert said.

"She didn't think she had enough evidence, hard evidence to press for a guilty verdict."

Family friend takes action

A family friend who knew Robert – Josée Battista, a lawyer – got involved in the case.

Battista says she believes Robert's story, and wants to help him.

"This is a tragic story, and I am convinced that it's not just these kids who have suffered," said Battista.

Battista filed a complaint at the Quebec Human Rights Commission, which opened an investigation.

The commission examined Batshaw's files documenting the case.

But it didn't confront the Laurentians foster parents — who have always denied the alleged abuse.

According to the commission, interviewing the foster parents during the investigation wasn't necessary to determine whether the children's rights were violated.

Commission's conclusions reveal many issues

The Quebec Human Rights Commission's mandate was limited in the investigation.

The Commission cannot prove that any crime was committed. Its mandate is to examine how the children's allegations were handled, and determine whether established protocols were followed.

CBC News obtained a copy of the commission's investigation conclusions, which includes the following:

- Robert's version of events, that he repeatedly experienced sexual abuse by his foster father.

- Information about another foster child in the home who became pregnant at age 12, which went unnoticed until she was in her 35th week of gestation.

- The commission does not make any conclusions regarding the baby's paternity.

Battista says she is shocked.

"Irrespective of who the [baby's] father was, a girl getting pregnant, and giving birth at age 12 is simply not acceptable to me while she's under foster care," she said.

The commission concludes that several aspects of foster care protocol were not followed in Robert's case, including:

- Certain background and criminal record checks required when applying to become a foster family were not done.

- Investigating questionable information raised by third parties on the basis that it was not significant enough.

- Children being informed of their rights by the Youth Centre involved.

The commission report also concluded that the children in the case were interviewed in the presence of their foster parents, despite allegations of abuse.

Commission vice-president Sylvie Godin said demanding Batshaw's report could help make sure "that there won't be any such situation repeated in the future."