Barbara Kay: No justice for Jeffrey
National Post - Wednesday September 25th, 2013
When he was alive, little Jeffrey Baldwin was surrounded by adults. If a single one of them had demonstrated that they cared even a little bit about him, his life could have been saved.
To the bitter end, Richard Baldwin was the modern man, so aggressively passive he was almost magnificent.
Jill Witkin, counsel to Ontario coroner Dr. Peter Clark, was wrapping up a brief re-examination of Mr. Baldwin Monday at the end of his almost three days of testimony.
The inquest is examining the Nov. 30, 2002, death of Jeffrey Baldwin, Mr. Baldwin’s five-year-old son.
With three siblings, Jeffrey was in the custody of his maternal grandparents, Evla Bottineau and Norman Kidman, both of whom were later convicted of second-degree murder in the little boy’s death and of forcible confinement for the regular locking up of Jeffrey and his six-year-old sister in a fetid room.
But nobody in his kinship or professional child-service circle appeared to show any sign that they did. So, neglected, abused and starved for four years by his family-court and Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS)-approved caretakers — his maternal grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman — Jeffrey died, just shy of his 6th birthday, from malnutrition, septic shock and pneumonia. Forensic photographs of Jeffrey’s 21 lbs. corpse, exactly what he weighed at 12 months, invoke images of Auschwitz prisoners.
The 2005 trial uncovered many gruesome details of Jeffrey’s tormentors’ history. Astonishingly, both Bottineau and Kidman had criminal records. Elva Bottineau had been convicted for the death of one baby, then had two other children, now adults, that she had abused in equally extreme ways: stuffed into dogs’ cages, chained to beds, starved and beaten. Kidman had been convicted of assaults on two of Bottineau’s children from another father. On five separate relevant occasions, a cursory review of CCAS’s own files would have turned up these convictions, not to mention a psychological assessment of Bottineau saying she’s sometimes “a danger to herself and others,” and prevented them getting guardianship, but no background check occurred.
An ongoing inquest is elaborating on the disheartening scope of the network of negligence — overt and covert — that allowed Bottineau and Kidman to indulge their pathological impulses. Our understanding of the “what” that happened to Jeffrey Baldwin has broadened, but as to the “how” — how so much cruelty could be visited on a child in plain sight without intervention — we are no further ahead.
In particular we need to know more about the role of the CCAS. When Christie Blatchford broke the story in a series of National Post articles in 2003, and interviewed executive director Mary McConville, McConville admitted that the CCAS had failed Jeffrey in having omitted the background checks. But there were so many other failures and, for anyone of common sense, so many unanswered questions.
Such as why the lack of paediatric records in Jeffrey’s file was not a red flag; why the fact that Jeffrey was not attending kindergarten at the age of 5 and school at 6 went uninvestigated; why, when a case worker did actually go to the little house of horrors, he didn’t insist on seeing the filthy, dungeon-like room Jeffrey shared with an equally unloved sister; or why nobody ever spoke to the other children in the home who, once removed to good foster care, candidly revealed the nauseating details of their and Jeffrey’s former plight.
Police sergeant Mike Davis, who led the case investigation, called this “the worst death of a child I’ve ever seen” and was at a loss to explain it — particularly since no CCAS case worker would co-operate with his investigation.
This agency equivalent of a nuclear meltdown should have motivated extraordinary willingness on CCAS’s part to co-operate with the police and prosecutor, not the opposite. After all, CCAS receives $88-million a year in public funding. Transparency should be a given. Instead, everyone involved at CCAS stonewalled investigators and media.
To appreciate the full horror of this story, visuals are instructive. You should watch the CBC’s 2006 Fifth Estate film, “Failing Jeffrey Baldwin” on Youtube. In it, I was particularly struck by journalist Gillian Findlay attempts to interview McConville in a parking lot (according to the Fifth Estate, CCAS had reneged on a laboriously-negotiated interview once they found out how much CBC already knew). McConville’s arrogant rejection of any interchange beyond a reference to a generically apologetic press release, which apologized for but did not explain the Baldwin fiasco, speaks volumes about what would appear to be a culture of secrecy and unaccountability in this and similar CAS agencies. The woman who’d spoken openly with Blatchford was nowhere to be found in that parking lot.
Bottineau and Kidman were convicted of second-degree murder. But that was, or should be, a mere beginning to justice for Jeffrey. Real justice would ensure no other child in agency care ever suffers anything like a similar fate. For that to happen, heads must roll so that accountability becomes the new normal in child services. However, an inquest can only lay out the facts; it cannot assign blame. A public inquiry can, though, and that is precisely what the Office of the Child Advocate should be calling for.