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CAS Stonewalls Criminal Trial
September 21, 2005 permalink
If you have had any dealings with Children's Aid, or have been following the issues in this webpage, you know the difficulty of getting information from Children's Aid. They claim immunity from the Freedom of Information Act, and hide behind cop-outs such as "protecting the child from emotional harm". In a murder case involving a dead child, none of their excuses apply, but Children's Aid sticks by its habit of revealing nothing. Will they let their contractors go free by refusing to disclose their files? This could become an important case.
Judge halts trial until aid files are found
For weeks, the court has heard quibbling about who has the slain boy's documents
By CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD, Wednesday, September 21, 2005
An Ontario Superior Court judge temporarily halted the Jeffrey Baldwin murder case yesterday amid ongoing delays in ensuring the little boy's entire file at the Toronto Catholic Children's Aid Society is in the hands of trial lawyers.
"This can't continue," a frustrated Judge David Watt snapped at one point. "It's going to stop now; it's going to be clarified now before we take one more step."
With that, he ordered James Maloney, lawyer for the CCAS, to notify prosecutor Lorna Spencer by tomorrow that the whole file has been located, or return to court Friday to explain why not.
Once that is done, CCAS child-care worker Margarita Quintana is to review its contents, with the trial itself on hold until Sept. 29.
Ms. Quintana was the family's worker when Jeffrey and three of his siblings were handed over to the very grandparents -- Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman -- who are now on trial for first-degree murder in the little boy's Nov. 30, 2002, death.
The four children were taken from their mother, the grandparents' daughter Yvonne Kidman, in a series of three separate family court proceedings over the course of several years.
The Catholic Children's Aid didn't object to the grandparents' gaining legal custody of the youngsters.
Neither did anyone ever check the agency's own files, which contained clear documentation that Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman were manifestly unfit to be acting as caregivers for vulnerable youngsters -- both were criminally convicted child abusers.
Ms. Quintana will be called as a witness here, and Ms. Spencer and defence lawyers for the grandparents want to know before they begin to question her what records she personally prepared or relied upon in making decisions about the children's placement.
Jeffrey died a few weeks shy of his sixth birthday of septic shock complicated by pneumonia, but expert witnesses have testified that the central contributing factor in his death was what one of them termed a gross "nutritional insult."
The boy had been starved over months and perhaps even years, and at death weighed less than he had when he was a healthy, chubby toddler of 12 or 13 months, and stood only 37 inches tall.
He was deemed officially both wasted and stunted, terms that respectively refer to the impact of chronic starvation upon body weight and height, and Judge Watt has also heard that the little boy and one of his sisters, just a year older, lived in a locked, frigid and feces-smeared room in the grandparents' east-end house.
For weeks now, Mr. Maloney for the CCAS, Keith Geurts for Ms. Quintana and Crown prosecutors have been quibbling about which agency documents have been handed over and which, if any, are missing.
It was unclear -- and Judge Watt yesterday pointed no finger of blame -- whether the delay was due to simple miscommunication or something else.
What was apparent, however, is that the judge has lost his stomach for further wrangling.
He also urged Mr. Geurts to have Ms. Quintana agree to an interview with prosecutors, saying, "Although I can't compel her to be interviewed, it would be a prudent course for her to follow."
On the advice of her lawyer, Ms. Quintana has declined repeated requests from Toronto Police and prosecutors to be questioned about the case.
It is likely that she, like other workers at the Catholic Children's Aid, remains alert to a recent high-profile case involving one of their colleagues, Angie Martin.
She was the worker in the Jordan Heikamp case -- the infant starved to death in a native women's shelter in Toronto before the unseeing eyes of a plethora of helping professionals and under the ostensible supervision of Ms. Martin -- and along with the baby's teenaged mother, Renee Heikamp, was charged criminally in Jordan's death.
The charges against both women were dismissed after a preliminary hearing.
But both testified at length and to enormous publicity at a coroner's inquest examining Jordan's death in the spring of 2001 -- just 18 months before firefighters and paramedics responded to the 911 call about Jeffrey.
Ms. Bottineau, now 53, was convicted on June 10, 1970, of assaulting her own baby daughter, Eva. Then a teen mother, Ms. Bottineau was sentenced to a year of probation. Though the five-month-old infant died of pneumonia, an autopsy revealed she had also suffered tiny fractures of the shoulders, elbows and wrists - now recognized as classic signposts of child abuse.
Mr. Kidman, also now 53, was convicted on Dec. 29, 1978, of two counts of assault causing bodily harm in connection with assaults upon two of Ms. Bottineau's children, then aged 5 and 6, from a former relationship. He was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $150 on each charge.
The two children were later made Crown wards and subsequently adopted.
Shortly after Jeffrey's death, CCAS executive director Mary McConnville acknowledged that the agency had failed to check its own files and that, had someone done so, the revealing information about Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman was there to be found.
Ms. McConnville said at the time that the agency had no policy for staff to check files in cases called "kinship care," in which relatives step forward to seek custody of youngsters whose own parents are deemed unfit, such as Ms. Bottineau did when daughter Yvonne saw first one, then two others and finally a fourth child taken from her.
There is such a policy now.
If the role of the agency and its worker are somewhat peripheral to the criminal trial - it is Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman who are charged after all - the publicity around the details of how they came to gain legal custody of four youngsters might increase pressure upon the Ontario coroner's office to call an inquest into Jeffrey's death after the trial is over.
That decision hasn't yet been made, deputy coroner Dr. Jim Cairns told The Globe and Mail yesterday.
Jeffrey died of the complications of starvation almost three years ago; baby Jordan died of starvation in 1997; three years before that, another tiny charge of the agency was making headlines.
That was baby Sara Podniewicz, who died gasping for breath, her lungs filled with pneumonia, in her car seat at the age of six months and 10 days.
She had 24 broken bones at the hands of her crack-addled parents and yet at their trial - both were convicted of second-degree murder - a CCAS worker and another the agency had contracted to monitor the home were questioned at length about the jarringly cheerful notes they had made documenting Sara's alleged progress.
Source: Globe and Mail