3 toddlers bolt from Quebec City daycare undetected, found roaming near busy road

Police sprinted to the scene when calls started coming in from people describing toddlers wandering near a busy urban autoroute in Quebec City Thursday morning. All three children are safe but parents are upset.

Police report daycare to youth protection authorities

Early childhood educators in B.C. say they were left out of consultations with the provincial government, particularly over recent Omicron variant guidelines. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Three toddlers between the ages of two and three escaped from a Quebec City daycare Thursday morning and then strolled to a busy road.  

The first sign that something was wrong was when a bystander contacted the police to report that a young child was wandering near Robert-Bourassa Boulevard at around 11:20 a.m.

"Our staff quickly went to the site and confirmed the presence of a young child and then took him into their care," Marie-Pier Rivard, a spokesperson for the Quebec City police (SPVQ), said.

Stuck in the mud

Just minutes later, at around 11:28 a.m., the daycare, located in the des Rivières borough, called the SPVQ to report two toddlers were missing. 

Several police teams were deployed, including three dog handlers, to search the area, Rivard said. 

Minutes later, around 11:40 am, Rivard says, police received another call from a passerby who said he was with two young children in the same sector of Robert-Bourassa Boulevard, which is an urban highway.

Police then went to a wooded area, where they met with Nicole Sénéchal and Gervais Dumais who were taking care of two small children. Another passerby had alerted them to the children's predicament.

"One of them was in tears," Dumais said.  "His feet were completely stuck in the mud and couldn't move."

Nicole Sénéchal and Gervais Dumais found two toddlers stuck in the mud. (Pascal Poinlane/Radio-Canada)

"They didn't flinch, they just froze," he said.  "All I had to do was reassure them."

The couple had to try twice to pull the child from the mud before they succeeded. 

"Luckily the person who saw them called 911 because I'm not sure that we would have seen them ourselves," Sénéchal said, adding that she doesn't think the toddlers would have made it out without help from adults. 

The children were returned to the daycare in good health. Police say they all were dressed for the outdoors.

The SPVQ says they reported the incidents to the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ) — Quebec's youth protection authority.

"We established that there was nothing criminal in this incident, however we still had to report it to the DPJ who will connect with the Family Ministry, if necessary," Rivard said. 

'Completely insane'

The father of one of the toddlers told Radio-Canada he fumed and then burst into tears, when he learned that his son had left the daycare.

On Thursday, he received a call from the daycare director, telling him that his son had "run away for about 20 minutes outside the daycare and a police intervention was required to find him." 

But a few hours later, at 4 p.m., an acquaintance, who had seen three children strolling near the busy road, called him and gave him a clearer picture.

"He saw children running happily toward the Galeries de la Capitale (shopping mall)," the father said. 

"I had just realized that my son had crossed an urban boulevard, I fell to my knees, I was bawling, for real, I said to myself: 'What are the chances that nothing happened?'" 

He has since pulled his son out of the daycare. 

Security improvements 

The daycare explained the events in a letter to parents.

According to the missive, obtained by Radio-Canada, an educator was taking care of a child who needed help and while her back was turned, three children slipped out "through the daycare's front door." 

The daycare director says she plans on tightening the building's security

"Our building complies with building code regulations and the Family Ministry's requirements, however, we will add a security mechanism to prevent this situation from happening again," she said in the letter. 

With files from Émilie Warren and Radio-Canada’s David Rémillard, Agnès Chapsal, Pascale Poinlane.