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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

November 1, 2005 permalink

Here is more inside information on the kinds of care CCAS provides for its wards.



In this house, no child escaped without scars


Tuesday, November 1, 2005

In the hierarchy of hurt at the murder trial of Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, Jeffrey Baldwin stands alone.

Of the six children who were living in the Bottineau-Kidman house in east-end Toronto in the fall of 2002, the little boy is the only one who died. Only Jeffrey's hurt was fatal: He was wasted, stunted and so weak after months, if not years, of sustained starvation that he could not fight off either the pneumonia which filled his lungs or the septic shock which poisoned his blood and in short order proceeded to shut down his organs.

His three young siblings and two cousins survived.

Even the sister who escaped by the skin of her teeth -- she was confined with Jeffrey to a foul bedroom for such long periods of time that the two youngsters were regularly reduced to soiling themselves -- got out of the house for half-days at school. Jeffrey did not. Though at 5, almost 6, he was of kindergarten age at least, he was stuck in that reeking bedroom, or ordered to stay on a mat in the kitchen of that small up-and-down house, all day and all night.

But not by a long shot could any of his siblings -- even the two, the self-described "good kids," who were by comparison treated well by Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman -- be said to have emerged remotely unscathed.

Indeed, how could they?

As the youngest child kept repeating, when the trio arrived at the doorstep of their first emergency foster home just hours after Jeffrey's cold and ruined body had been taken away on a stretcher and the remaining youngsters had been apprehended by the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto, "My brother's dead, my brother's dead, my brother's dead."

And then, at the end of that sad mantra, this: "Grandpa always said if you shit all over the place, you're gonna get beat."

That child was then about 4, but already had absorbed the tortured logic that prevailed in that wretched house: We shall lock your brother and sister in an unheated pit of a room such that when nature calls, as it inevitably will, they necessarily will have to relieve themselves in the room, and then we shall beat them for doing it.

As the youngest sibling later told the first foster mom, "Sometimes Grandma can't handle Jeff and Grandpa goes up and he beats his ass real good sometimes."

The first time the youngest blurted out the revelation about Grandpa dearest, the oldest child attempted to put a halt to it. "You need to be quiet." The child could not stop, kept repeating, "My little brother's dead!" The oldest, then about 8, took charge then.

"You need to shut up," came the order. "It's for us to know and them to find out."

Thus the dynamic that had been established in the Bottineau-Kidman household was sickly clear: These two, youngest and eldest, were the "good kids," and part of being a good kid was in learning to blind yourself to what was going on in the house and to bind yourself to the family contract that you didn't ever talk about it to outsiders.

As the sister who was locked in that room with Jeffrey once told Michelle Rose, the CCAS worker who was assigned to the three youngsters after they were taken into care, she had to go to her little prison whenever a neighbour's son came over "because I stink."

This little girl, thin with the jarring pot belly of malnourished youngsters the world over when she was taken into CCAS care, also had head lice and eczema virtually all over her body and so severely on her feet that an entire layer of skin peeled right off after her first bath at the emergency foster home. The foster mum said yesterday she had to change the water in the tub three times before the little girl was clean.

Didn't she have any cream for the rash, the foster mum, a woman with a beautifully kind face, asked. "I had cream," came the answer, "but because I was a bad girl I wasn't allowed to have it any more."

The little girl said that she didn't know what happened to Jeffrey, only that when "they went to check on him, I woke up and he was dead."

These words from Jeffrey's siblings, called "utterances" in the jargon of the courtroom, were elicited yesterday from Ms. Rose and two of the emergency foster mums by prosecutor Bev Richards, who is arguing that Ontario Court Judge David Watt should consider them as evidence.

They form part of the prosecutor's application to have the statements deemed sufficiently reliable that the traditional truth-seeking function of cross-examination can be safely forgone.

The judge has already ruled that the three youngsters themselves will not testify at their grandparents' trial, so defence lawyers won't be able to question them directly about what they told the foster parents and CCAS workers. Thus, Judge Watt must be satisfied the statements are reliable.

Though the foster parents' names are not covered by a publication ban the judge issued yesterday to protect the identity of Jeffrey's siblings, they continue to work as foster parents for the CCAS, and at their request, The Globe and Mail isn't identifying them to protect the youngsters currently living with them.

What was sobering about some of the children's statements was how, even in the throes of the first confusion, fear and sorrow they were feeling on the day Jeffrey died, they were concerned about, and still loyal to, Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman, now 54 and 53 respectively.

The sister who had been locked in the room with Jeffrey, for instance, was "very upset, sad and crying" about her little brother, but her grief was nonetheless coloured by fear: "My brother's dead," she said at one point, "and my grandfather's gonna get in big trouble and he's gonna go to jail."

By the end of the second day of three she spent in the emergency foster home, the little girl "was attached to my hip," the foster mum said. "She'd become very clingy."

The youngest child told the first foster mum that Jeffrey and the sister slept in a room that was very cold, and that Jeffrey didn't have any blankets. "That's what happens," the four-year-old said, "when you're bad at Grandpa's house."

The oldest child, while more aloof and careful with the foster mum, settled in quickly at the permanent foster home, telling Ms. Rose, within the first week there, that it would be good "to live there forever," and offering within another week or so a theory of why Jeffrey died -- that he'd "got sick from drinking from the toilet."

Perhaps the most heart-breaking, and telling, remark came from the sister who'd been locked up with Jeffrey.

Asked how she liked the permanent foster home, the little girl allowed that she did, Ms. Rose said. "She said everyone is nice, and she smells better and her room smells better."

The little girl was all of 7 then, but so terribly old, as were they all.

Source: Globe and Mail