A no-kill animal shelter in Vaudreuil-Dorion, SPCA West, says it needs help recovering from a "disaster" after a flood caused major damage to more than 70% of its walls and floors.
"Last thing we expected when coming to work yesterday morning, is to open the doors to 2 inches of water running through and flooding the SPCA. A water pipe burst over night, and [a] huge amount of water made its way through the entire shelter," SPCA West wrote in an email dated August 13.
SPCA West's executive director, Remi Brazeau, told MTL Blog the animals doing well and no one got hurt. Brazeau said another shelter, Auberge Refuge Zen in Laval, stepped in quickly to take the animals to a dry new home.
But Brazeau also said the insurance policy will likely only cover a very small portion of the damages and lost items. According to SPCA West, the damage will be "well into the six figures," but the insurance policy will cover a maximum of $7,000.
"We are insured. The problem we face is more complex than just a call and bang they solve it. It's about establishing responsibility, who did the work and which insurer will cover what and to what extent," SPCA West posted on Facebook.
The post says there's an ongoing debate about who the insurance will deem responsible for the incident: the SPCA, the manufacturer of the burst pipe, the contractor from when the place was built, and so on.
"Meanwhile, we are stuck in the midst of this and need to rebuild while this debate continues and can last weeks or even more, we are told," the post says.
Brazeau told MTL Blog the shelter is "desperately needing financial help to get things fixed up." The team has launched a donation campaign and those wishing to donate can do so online.
Meanwhile, Jessica Prince-Chenier, who works for Refuge Zen, said the shelter has space for the seven dogs and 10 cats it took in from the SPCA West. But she said they could use donations of dog toys and cat litter.
The bill was first tabled by Quebec's Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, in December 2020, and it was passed following consultations between the government and Indigenous families in Quebec.
The goal was to meet the needs of Indigenous families while respecting their "culture and language, and also their suffering," according to the ministry.
The ministry also said it hopes "to support families in their quest for truth and also in the healing process."
In 2019, a report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called on the Quebec government to provide Indigenous families with information on children who had been apprehended following admission to a hospital or health centre in Quebec.
How does the new law work?
Once it's implemented on September 21, Bill 79 will give Indigenous families access to personal information from "a health and social services institution, an organization or a religious congregation" about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance or death of children admitted to a health and social services institution in Quebec before December 31, 1992.
The government will provide the information through exemptions to Quebec's current laws that prevent disclosing personal information.
Under the new law, Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs will also have the power to launch an investigation if government information could help Indigenous families, but can't be disclosed because of the province's existing rules on disclosing personal information.
How have Indigenous leaders reacted to the new law?
On June 14, leaders from the Cree Nation said that while the law is an important step to "apologize or begin to compensate for the harm suffered by Indian Residential School survivors," the scope of the law needs to be revised since Indigenous children "were taken and never returned" for reasons beyond medical care in Quebec.
The Cree Nation specified that Quebec's education system was the largest "pretext for the institutionalized abduction of children," and that the school system's absence from Bill 79 means more action is needed.
The Grand Council of the Crees stated that not all Indigenous youth or community members will feel comfortable contacting the Quebec government for help with traumatic events that were associated with "governments they do not feel are their own."
The Council recommended that Quebec put mechanisms in place so Indigenous governments can represent and serve the needs of their own people.
Five months later, McGill has issued one statement and launched three investigations. But the accusers — who asked to be called "the girls" to protect their safety — told MTL Blog they've been left in the dark.
They said they received no updates on how investigations are progressing or whether the accused is facing any penalties.
Meanwhile, they said the student has continued attending classes.
McGill has been following its protocol for investigations into allegations of sexual assault — but this protocol has left the girls and other students in limbo for the majority of the school year.
"We can't feel safe on campus with him lurking around, viewing us as prey," one of the girls, Eva*, told MTL Blog.
Most of the girls were minors at the time of the alleged assaults, as was the accused student, whose name has not been released by the university or the police.
Eva told MTL Blog the accused student frequented bars near McGill residences where he would "talk to, touch and kiss [girls] who were drunk," and that he would persistently "beg" female students to "hook up."
In written testimonies shared with MTL Blog, each of the girls outlined how the accused student sexually assaulted them both off and on campus.
One of them said the accused sexually assaulted her when she was "completely blacked out" from alcohol.
What was McGill's reaction?
McGill responded to the December petition within three days. A statement written by Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau assured the student body and the general public that McGill was "looking into the matter."
"Our foremost concern right now is student wellbeing," Labeau wrote. He expressed what he called a "steadfast commitment to a campus community where everyone feels safe."
Though none of the girls had formally reported their assaults to McGill at the time — something Eva said was because "the resources weren't publicized and the social consequences for reporting were immense" — that changed by the end of December.
Eva said one of the girls filed a police report, and three of the girls filed complaints with McGill, initiating three internal investigations. However, neither the police nor the university was able to confirm details of these investigations to MTL Blog.
A month later, the university had not issued any new statements nor updated the girls involved, Eva said.
MTL Blog asked Cynthia Lee, McGill's associate director of media relations, to confirm the status of the investigations in February. She said that according to McGill's Policy Against Sexual Violence, "when a formal report is made, the University must immediately appoint an external Special Investigator to conduct a full and impartial investigation."
She also said "the entirety of this process is covered by confidentiality regulations," and that she could not disclose any further information.
The silence surrounding the allegations began to disturb other McGill students who said they had to interact with the accused student in their classes.
Anna Ni told MTL Blog she attended an online psychology course with the accused student, where she said he would participate in group discussions while he was part of the ongoing investigations.
She said McGill's ambiguous response to the allegations made her feel "small and voiceless."
"I am grateful for the fact that McGill has resources that can help students struggling with this situation, but McGill's vagueness in their [statement] gave me the impression that they were not actively taking care of this situation," she said.
In a screenshot Ni took of her classmates discussing the accused student's presence in the course via group chat — which she shared with MTL Blog — one student asked, "I thought the school took care of this? Why is he still allowed to study?"
Amrita Kaur, a first-year student unaffiliated with the girls, told MTL Blog that McGill's communications to the student body following the incident — mainly emails consisting of links to support resources — felt "empty."
She emailed the Office of the Dean of Students to express her "extreme disappointment" in the school for allowing the accused student to attend classes "as if nothing ever happened."
"Now I wonder if it's true [...] all great institutions sweep sexual assault under the rug," she wrote in her email to McGill, which she forwarded to MTL Blog.
She said she did not receive a response from the university.
Lee told MTL Blog that at McGill, until an investigation is complete, "disciplinary actions cannot be taken pre-emptively […] however, interim measures are put in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those directly affected."
Possible accommodations include late withdrawal from a course or a change in residence — but they only apply to survivors.
MTL Blog found that according to the Policy against Sexual Violence, the university can take pre-emptive disciplinary action if "there may be a risk of harm to any Member of the University Community."
MTL Blog asked Lee if the fact that the accused student was still attending classes meant that the university did not see him as posing a threat to university community members.
She did not directly respond to the question.
What is the 'Code of Silence'?
There is a legal reason why the university claims it is limited regarding what it can divulge about sexual assault investigations.
Brooklyn Frizzle, vice-president of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), told MTL Blog they believe universities use this law as a "scapegoat" to justify a lack of transparency in cases of sexual violence.
Frizzle said this wasn't the first time students' questions about a case involving sexual misconduct were left unanswered.
"I've lost track of how many emails to the Dean of Students or to the Provost that I've seen, to which there was no response because the university can't legally give a response," they said.
Last year, representatives from l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) started a petition to amend the Act so post-secondary institutions could "inform victims of the disciplinary measures taken against their aggressors."
"Evidence shows that [the Act] contributes to victims' lack of trust in institutional channels, since it keeps the person most affected by the complaint from accessing crucial information for their healing process and to their sense of safety at school and/or work," the petition read.
McGill's Policy states that all investigations should be conducted within 90 days. According to this timeline, the girls' investigations should have ended by April.
But even when the investigations are complete, the Code of Silence means the girls cannot be informed of the penalties that may or may not be imposed on the accused student.
As Lee told MTL Blog, "details or updates concerning particular cases cannot be provided to anyone outside those immediately involved."
This means other students won't know if they can expect to see the accused student in their classes again next semester.
Could the 'Code of Silence' change?
While the public may never know if and how the accused student has been disciplined, McGill's Annual Report on the Policy against Sexual Violence gives some indication of the number of investigations the school has conducted.
McGill provided MTL Blog with a copy of the Annual Report, which specifies that, in 2020, eight of nine completed investigations yielding "a finding of sexual violence" resulted in disciplinary action.
These actions included "admonishment and conduct probation, formal reprimand [and/or] cease and desist communication and contact orders," but it's unclear which actions applied to which investigations.
Out of 18 incidents of sexual violence reported to the university in 2020, 83% were submitted by women. Just one report was submitted by a man, while two were submitted anonymously.
In May, a National Assembly committee presented its findings on possibly amending Bill 64. However, whether the amendments pass remains to be seen. For now, those involved can only know that the investigations are finished.
A 2016 Université Laval study found that 36.9% of Quebec students, faculty and staff experienced some form of sexual violence by another person affiliated with their university.
"It feels constant, like there's [always] some big allegation of sexual violence that we're talking about that we're trying to pressure the university to respond to," Frizzle said.
"It's just the name [that] changes every semester."
*The source's name has been changed at their request to protect their safety.
With files from Ilana Belfer, MTL Blog.
If you require resources or assistance surrounding sexual assault in Quebec, the CAVAC helpline is available 24/7. Those who may need support can call 1-866-532-2822. Other crisis lines and 24/7 options can be found at The Lifeline Canada.
The Vaccine Hunters use a number of digital tools to source information on available vaccine appointments from public health providers, pharmacists, clinics, and the public before sharing it on Twitter.
Gagnon-Voyer, who runs an e-commerce company when he's not volunteering, explained the group lets people know about available shots through a Twitter account and Discord platform.
"It feels great to make a small contribution to the effort," said Gagnon-Voyer.
"We often get messages from people when they need assistance and are unsure about the process. Then we hear back from them a few days later after they get vaccinated and they are very thankful. It always feels like a win."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
[CA] We are humbled by the amount of messages we receive from people across Canada who want to help out, so we've p… https://t.co/XJak3b9AgQ
Gagnon-Voyer joined the Vaccine Hunters after noting a lack of information on Quebec’s vaccine rollout on the organization’s accounts while trying to secure coronavirus vaccine appointments for his parents and in-laws, he said.
Not long after he began sending advice on Quebec’s vaccine rollout to the group’s founders, Gagnon-Voyer was offered a formal role.
"The interesting part is that I don't actually live in Quebec (I'm in Toronto) but I'm originally from Quebec City and always follow Quebec news so I have a good idea of what is happening," he said.
[QC] 45+ Montérégie - Boucherville - Rendez-vous disponibles DEMAIN pour AstraZeneca à Boucherville - New appointme… https://t.co/m0hhVrY3FW
People seem happier with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Quebec than in Ontario
As a Quebec contributor, his role is to share information about vaccine distribution in the province in both English and French on social media.
He also keeps track of announcements from local Centres intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) and shares tips he receives on the appointment process in different regions of Quebec.
"Our role in Quebec is more to help with sharing the news about walk-in clinics that are sometimes announced a bit last minute or not widely shared in the media, or just to tell people when new spots are available [on Clic Santé]," he continued.
Vaccine Hunters Canada began in Ontario after its founder became frustrated by the province’s sometimes complex vaccine booking process, but Quebecers have been happier with their vaccine rollout, he noted.
"Being based in Toronto but following Quebec news on vaccination, I can see that there is a world of difference between both provinces," said Gagnon-Voyer.
"Overall Quebec has a much better system [the Clic Santé platform] that helps to centralize the majority of vaccine appointments in the province, which makes things easier."
[QC] Montréal - Plateau - Centre de vaccination temporaire le 6 mai sur rendez-vous seulement au Centre Sablon - Te… https://t.co/1AZINfBCws
Since its foundation, Vaccine Hunters Canada has grown to dozens of contributors and a community of thousands "all doing what we can to get shots in arms," said Gagnon-Voyer.
"Our goal is just to help more people to figure out how to get a vaccine," he said.
"We aren't really there to criticize the politics behind it, we are there to help fill a need. We realized that there is a strong demand from Canadians to know where the next vaccine clinics are and if they fit within the list of criteria to get access to the vaccine, and we are there to help."