Hundreds pay homage to 7-year-old girl at Granby, Que., funeral

The girl's death has sparked a provincewide conversation about flaws in Quebec's youth protection system. But the priest who presided over the funeral service said he wanted to make sure the focus was on the girl herself.

Priest calls for prayer 'for all the children in similar situations'

Hundreds paid their respects at the funeral for a seven-year-old girl who died in hospital after she was found in critical condition in her father's home by police last week. The service was held at the Saint-Eugène Church in Granby, Que. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The priest who presided over the funeral of a seven-year-old girl whose death sparked a provincewide conversation about flaws in Quebec's youth protection system says he wanted to make sure the service focused on the girl herself.

"It will not be an occasion to point fingers or to criticize, but for the little one," Rev. Serge Pelletier said before Thursday morning's funeral. "We will focus on her, knowing full well that questions will continue to be asked."

The girl died last week, a day after she was found by police in critical condition in her father's home in Granby, Que., about 80 kilometres east of Montreal. She was taken to hospital, where she was in a coma until she died.

Her father and stepmother have been charged with forcible confinement. The stepmother faces an additional charge of aggravated assault. Their identities are subject to a publication ban to protect the child's identity.

The Quebec government ordered a coroner's inquest into the death of the girl, who had a long history of involvement with the youth protection system.

Pelletier said he called for a peaceful and subdued atmosphere. 

"We've agreed with the family to give a particular tone to the ceremony," Pelletier said. "We're going to pray together to help with the grieving process and to honour this little girl."

Family members and people from across the province made their way to the 600-seat Saint-Eugène Church in Granby.

Representatives from the regional health board were also in attendance. Some of those present wiped away tears as the family entered the church along with the tiny casket. 

Stuffed animals were placed around the church in honour of the little girl. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A colourful collection of stuffed animals lined the sills of the church's stained glass windows. Pink and yellow flowers were placed near the altar. 

During the service, which lasted about an hour, the girl's mother and grandmother read a poem together. The mother struggled to keep going, choking back tears. 

Friends of the family and relatives also sang several songs dedicated to the little girl. 

Pelletier asked those in attendance to take home one of the stuffed animals and share them with a child in their lives. He said that is how the girl's memory will live on. 

As Pelletier prayed for comfort, and for all children in the world who are suffering and in need, many wiped away tears. 

At one point, a woman had to walk out, overwhelmed by emotion.

The funeral lasted about an hour. Family members sang songs the little girl had loved. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Calls for better child protection

Darlene Ryan, a spokesperson for a Quebec association representing the families of missing and murdered persons, spoke on the family's behalf after the funeral.

She said they are exhausted and overwhelmed.

While today's service focused on honouring the little girl, the association is asking for several concrete actions to prevent this from happening again, including the creation of a youth ombudsperson in Quebec and an independent roundtable inquiry.

"There were a lot of alarms," Ryan said. "Someone didn't do their job."

At Quebec's National Assembly, the Liberals called on Premier François Legault to follow through on comments he made last week about launching another inquiry stemming from the child's death — he had suggested a commission similar to Dying with Dignity.

Hélène David, the Official Opposition critic for social services, said she wants Legault to elaborate on his plans.

"He needs to commit himself in the next few days, and to say, 'I took a few days to think, and this is what I'm going to do,'" David said.

She went on to suggest any new initiative be named "Growing up with Dignity."

With files from Jaela Bernstien and Radio-Canada