Here's What You Need To Know About Quebec's New Law For Missing Indigenous Children

Also known as 'Baby's Law.'
Here's What You Need To Know About Quebec's New Law For Missing Indigenous Children

On June 3, Quebec passed Bill 79, An Act to authorize the communication of personal information to the families of Indigenous children who went missing or died after being admitted to an institution. It's also known as "Baby's Law." 

This article contains graphic content that might not be suitable for some readers.

The new Quebec law was passed shortly after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at a former residential school in B.C. and before 751 unmarked graves were found near a former residential school in Saskatchewan. 

Here's what you need to know about how Bill 79 aims to help Indigenous families in Quebec.

Editor's Choice: Canada's New Governor General Discussed Growing Up In Quebec's Nunavik Region

Why was the new law passed?

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.

The government has enlisted former Radio-Canada journalist Anne Panasuk as a special advisor to help communities find answers on family members who went missing in Quebec's health care system.

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.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society Emergency Crisis Line is available across Canada 24/7. Those who may need support can call 1-866-925-4419.