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Parents Arrested, Children Confiscated
September 15, 2008 permalink
Both parents of an ailing baby have been arrested, and their two children are in the custody of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto. Since news accounts scramble the facts, here it the story chronologically as well as we can reconstruct it from the account below, Friday's police bulletin and some other press reports:
From the untangled chronology, this looks like a baby who could benefit more from cooperation with mom, rather than arrest and seizure.
Baby in care, parents jailed
Standoff at Sick Kids after mother, father refuse to treat malnourished boy due to religious beliefs
A 9-month-old baby is being treated for malnutrition at the Hospital for Sick Children today, nearly a week after police began searching for the child and his parents, members of an obscure Moorish-American religious sect that doesn't believe in traditional medicine.
But it took the Emergency Task Force to get him there.
The parents, who fled with the child after refusing treatment at the hospital last Wednesday, returned to Sick Kids with the boy yesterday after nearly five days in hiding.
The child's young mom and dad said they returned out of concern for the boy's health, and because of an intense police search for them.
But when hospital officials and the Children's Aid Society insisted on treatment, the mother backed off and wanted to leave with the child.
That led to a two-hour standoff at the hospital, with the mother refusing to hand over the child and authorities refusing to let the family leave.
The Emergency Task Force, which has negotiators trained for such situations, was also called in before the impasse ended with the arrest of the mother, father and a friend, all on obstruction of justice charges.
The parents, who are not married and cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, are due to appear in College Park court at 10 a.m. today.
The child, who weighs only 11 pounds – far short of the normal 20-odd pounds for a healthy baby of that age – is now in the custody of the Children's Aid Society.
Last Friday, police issued a rare public alert for the mother and child, but not even close friends or the family's spiritual leader could say where she was hiding out with the baby, who health officials said was severely malnourished and in need of medical treatment.
Finally, saying she was concerned for her son's faltering health, the 22-year-old mother returned to the hospital yesterday with her son and the baby's father.
As he walked to downtown 52 Division, on Dundas St. W. yesterday, the child's father said he was a "Moorish-American," and didn't believe in invasive medical treatment.
The local spiritual leader for the Moorish Science Temple of America, a small sect with members in Canada and the U.S., stood outside the station to offer support to the parents, and said the group preferred holistic medicines over conventional treatment
"We teach our people about homeopathic methods to stopping disease just because we don't know what's in the pills, we don't know what's in the injections," said Kudjo Adwo Sut Tekh El, wearing a long tunic and burgundy fez over long dreadlocks.
"It's a religious right for us to be able to express that," said the minister, identifying himself as the group's grand sheik.
The baby was born a month before his parents joined the small Toronto congregation of Moorish Americans, the minister said, adding the couple learned about the sect from an information meeting, and were interested in the group's beliefs about ancestral heritage as semi-divine citizens of Morocco.
When the baby was born, he suffered from hypersensitivity and had an allergy to breast milk, solid food and formula, said one neighbour of the family, who identified herself only as Dinah.
"It's been difficult to find the proper food. Even food from the hospital was giving him a reaction," she said. The baby's grandmother said she knew about the eczema, but not about his allergies.
"He's definitely not in optimum health. Everyone agrees he needs treatment," said Dinah.
Friends and relatives agreed that, in the last few weeks, the boy wasn't doing well and his weight wasn't picking up, so the mother was advised by a naturopathic doctor to take him to hospital last Wednesday, just for a diagnosis, so holistic treatment could be better focused.
"We saw the child just last week. I wouldn't say that it looked sick. The child has eczema, a skin condition. He looked skinny, but he didn't look like he was in dire need of assistance," said the grand sheik.
The mother at first refused intravenous treatment at the hospital, "because she wanted to explore other treatments," Dinah said. And when the mother arrived yesterday, she was going to comply with their treatments, then balked when Children's Aid wanted to take custody of the child, Dinah said.
"Things got out of hand somewhere," she said. "She went to the hospital with the full intent of being compliant. They didn't want to surrender custody. There's no need for that," she added.
The mother's surprise at being confronted by the ETF was evident through text messages she sent to the spiritual adviser throughout the two-hour standoff.
"They have ETF here," read one. Another pleaded for help: "Need you here."
"She is a good mother," said Dinah. "She's been totally attentive, and has been trying to find a good solution for him," said Dinah, adding the baby's 3 1/2-year-old brother is healthy. The older child is in the care of an aunt.
The child's grandmother waited outside the police station last night. "All I know is that my daughter is suffering," she said, "and I am worried about my grandson."
She said she didn't know anything about the religion her daughter had adopted but said she was certain the mother would never intentionally harm her own child.
With files from Theresa Boyle
Source: Toronto Star
Addendum: The Toronto Star follows up with the story of the broken family.
Mother denies negligence in baby case TheStar.com - GTA - Mother denies negligence in baby case
Charged with obstructing peace officer at hospital, mom of underweight infant talks about her ordeal
An empty stroller, an unused tricycle and a pile of toys that haven't moved out of the corner in nearly two weeks.
They are painful reminders for a young mother who lost custody of her two sons after a standoff with officials at a hospital, where she reportedly denied treatment for her severely malnourished 9-month-old, who weighed just 11 pounds.
But, she says, contrary to media reports, she never refused medical attention and insists that belonging to an obscure Moorish-American religious sect that promotes a holistic lifestyle played no role in the events that culminated with her being charged.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," she said this week, after a visit at the Children's Aid Society with her boys, who are in foster homes. "When I see them it's great, but the reality is I don't get to bring them home where they belong," she said, adding the baby is doing well and gaining weight.
In her first interview since her arrest at the Hospital for Sick Children, the 22-year-old woman said she's been unfairly portrayed as a negligent mother. Neither she nor her boyfriend can be named to protect the identities of their baby and 2-year-old son.
"Why would I have taken my son to the hospital if I was against treatment? It doesn't make sense," she said, while looking at photos of her baby stored in a digital camera, and trying to figure out why her life has unravelled over the past few weeks.
The mother, who describes herself as a fish-eating vegan, said a homeopathic doctor diagnosed her infant with eczema and advised her to cut various foods from her already restrictive diet. But the baby's rash didn't disappear, so she weaned him off breast milk and on to different baby formulas, with little success.
"I could see he was losing weight because he was refusing food," she recalled, adding she took the baby to the hospital to determine what he was deficient in.
She says she allowed staff to run a battery of tests and keep him overnight. But when she learned they wanted to call CAS, she panicked and fled, setting off a police search that garnered headlines.
When pressed about why she fled, given her baby had been diagnosed with severe malnutrition, she said: "Technically, everyone's malnourished, no one is getting their full nutritional requirements."
She says she returned to the hospital, accompanied by her boyfriend and a friend, four days later because the media was reporting the baby had only days to live.
Again, she permitted the baby to be examined and said that while the doctor was determining the next plan of action, police moved in to arrest her for obstructing a peace officer. She claims she did nothing to provoke the arrest and it was never explained to her why she was being charged.
Her boyfriend and friend were also charged. The three are out on bail and scheduled to return to court on Oct. 16.
The detective in charge of the case could not be reached for comment yesterday but during the arrests, authorities said the couple was reluctant to hand the baby over to staff. Hospital spokesperson Judith John said staff acted appropriately.
The story took on a religious dimension when the boyfriend told a reporter he was refusing intrusive treatment for religious reasons. And it intensified when the grand sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America spoke out in defence of the couple and of homeopathic remedies.
"This isn't a religious thing," said the mother, who insisted she's not devout, despite sporting a button on her lapel in support of Moorish-Americans.
"I do not oppose conventional medical treatments – both of my sons were born in a hospital and I have a family doctor," she said. "I brought him to the (hospital). There's no way I could refuse treatment if I'm bringing him there.
"I want my sons back, I need my sons back and I'll do whatever it takes to get them back."
Source: Toronto Star