Two Quebec women raped by foster father will sue child protection services: lawyer

By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Two women who were sexually assaulted by the same foster father 16 years apart plan to sue the regional health authority in Quebec City, their lawyer said Thursday. 

Valérie Assouline said the local youth protection service — run by the health authority — needs to be held responsible for ignoring the first child when she reported her assault and for placing other children in the home for years. 

“When stories like this happen, and we try to put it under the carpet and not get accountability, well it won’t happen anymore,” Assouline said in an interview. “I want to make sure that (youth protection) knows it won’t happen anymore.”

Assouline said that on two occasions in 2004, her client, who was 12 at the time, was drugged and woke up naked inside the home of Éric Jean, her foster father. The child told one of Jean’s family members what happened, and in response, was told not to drink any coffees offered to her by the man.

The third time Jean raped her she was fully conscious, Assouline said.

The child told the health authority about the third assault, but the institution didn’t act on her complaint, Assouline said. Instead, the girl was placed in a youth centre after her foster mother told youth protection officials that the girl was using drugs.

In the following years, more children were placed in the home. One of them was Assouline’s other client, who was nine the first time she was abused by Jean. She reported the assaults in 2021; this time, authorities investigated. 

In November, Jean was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to assaulting both girls. Another man, Steve Hudon, also faces charges related to the sexual abuse of the two children. Hudon is scheduled to return to court in May. A third man, who was a minor at the time the girls were raped, has also been charged.

Assouline said she is waiting to see if other victims come forward before filing the lawsuit against the regional health authority. But she said there are larger issues within Quebec’s troubled child protection system. 

“The failure is systemic, unfortunately,” she said, describing the case of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, Que., who was killed in 2019 by her stepmother, with the help of the child’s father. In that case, family members had brought concerns to child protection authorities, who failed to act. 

“It’s the same thing, we don’t listen and we don’t believe,” Assouline said. “And that’s what leads us to catastrophes.”

The Granby case isn’t the only one in which a child was killed by a parent after youth protection officials received warnings but failed to act, she said, referencing the case of two boys murdered in 2020 by their father in Wendake, Que., and one involving a girl killed in 2020 by her mother in Montreal. 

In those cases — as with the rape case she plans to bring to court — the response from youth protection authorities has been “unbelievable,” she said.

“Their reaction is always to protect their system.”

Her clients, who are now 32 and 17, remain haunted by their experiences, she said.

The health authority in Quebec City said it was informed for the first time of sexual assault allegations against Jean in 2021. Spokeswoman Mélanie Otis wrote in an email that a “series of verifications and actions were carried out, including an exhaustive investigation among the children housed in this environment who could have also been victims of sexual abuse.”

Quebec City police said their investigation of the sexual assaults at the foster home remains active, but they declined to comment further.

Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s minister responsible for social services, said he was horrified by the situation. “It’s abominable,” he told reporters Wednesday at the legislature.

Carmant said he would ask the province’s head of youth protection to investigate how children continued to be placed in the home after the child reported what happened to her in 2004, but he stressed that Quebec’s youth protection law has changed since a 2022 reform.

Assouline said Carmant should have ordered an inquiry in November 2023, when Jean was sentenced.

“I think it’s a lack of courage to change things, to change things at the root,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2024.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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