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Rewriting History

May 2, 2012 permalink

Since fixcas retains old news articles, we can tell the sequence of events that led to the death of Katelynn Sampson. Impoverished mother Bernice Sampson took her opportunity when offered a chance to earn $40 in a drug deal. The dealer turned out to be an under-cover cop and Bernice was arrested and sentenced to house arrest. Children's aid stepped in and told her to place her daughter with someone else, or they were going to put Katelynn in foster care. Bernice selected her long-time friend Donna Irving and her common-law husband Warren Johnson as guardians, without knowing what the police and CAS knew, that Irving had a history of violent offenses and had lost two of her own children to CAS. A judge approved the placement, again without knowledge of Irving's past. When the placement resulted in tragedy, CAS claimed no involvement. These reports give the story of the police and CAS involvement: [1] [2]. Here is an earlier article in which Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, denies involvement in the Sampson case. [3].

This week the killers of Katelynn Sampson pleaded guilty and were sentenced. Instead of admitting that CAS overzealousness led to the needless death of a child, Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter takes the occasion to omit the relevant facts and paint a picture suggesting children can be made safer by granting even more power to children's aid.



Porter: Tragic Katelynn Sampson was failed by Ontario social safety net

Katelynn Sampson
Katelynn Sampson shown in the cafeteria of the Parkdale Public School in this April 28, 2008, file photo.
Lisa Kannakko Photo

The road to 7-year-old Katelynn Sampson’s gruesome murder was lined with flaming warning flags.

Her two legal guardians, Donna Irving and Warren Johnson, pleaded guilty to beating her to death in the Ontario Superior Court Tuesday. They are headed to prison for at least 15 years.

They should never have been trusted with Katelynn’s precious life. They were both crack addicts, although Johnson says he’d cleaned up. Neither had a job. Irving, a former child ward and teenage prostitute, had already lost two of her kids to Children’s Aid.

Related: Life sentence for murdering 7-year-old Katelynn opens the way to an inquest

They were clearly a terrible choice — made by both Bernice Sampson, Katelynn’s crack-addicted mother, and Ontario Court Justice Debra Paulseth — to care for Katelynn.

The couple thought so, too. In the months leading up to Katelynn’s grisly death on Aug. 3, 2008, when police found her in a pool of her blood with 70 wounds, each more ghastly than the next, across her little body, Irving and Johnson called out for help no less than five times.

Irving and Johnson called the Children’s Aid Society, Katelynn’s teacher, even the little girl’s grandmother, saying they wanted Katelynn out of their apartment. They described her as dirty and obstinate. They said clearly that they couldn’t take care of her.

After police searched the home where Katelynn died, they found a scrap of paper on which the little girl had printed this mournful sentence 62 times:

“I’ am A awful girl that’s why know one wants me.”

That help clearly never came.

Since Irving is half-Anishinabe, Children’s Aid referred Irving’s call to Native Child and Family Services. But, while a supervisor called Irving the next day, it took a case worker 16 days to make contact. When she finally got that call, Irving lied and said she was getting help from Katelynn’s school.

Had that worker bothered to call Parkdale Public School and spoken to the principal to double-check, she would have discovered more blazing warning signs. Katelynn had been absent for 22 days in the past three months, and when she did show up, she had ugly bruises. The worker could have compared notes on Irving and Johnson’s increasing complaints about Katelynn, which they had both written and spoken to her Grade 2 teacher about. (“She was refusing to brush her teeth and take a bath,” they said.)

And five days later, when Katelynn appeared in class with bruises all over her face and pink spots down her arms and hands, the principal might have phoned her case worker.

But that didn’t happen. Because the case worker closed the file without following up on Irving’s lie.

Instead the principal reported the bruises and burn marks to Children’s Aid, which passed the buck again to Native Child and Family Services, which strangely, did nothing.

Katelynn’s case was never reopened.

That agency has much to answer for. They should be investigated for failing to protect Katelynn, as the strongest rope in her safety net. But the other ropes need tightening too.

Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon commended Parkdale Public School’s former principal as the only one who cared for Katelynn. I’m glad he called Children’s Aid. But that clearly wasn’t enough. He should have insisted on speaking to her worker to make sure Katelynn was being protected. That should be the provincial protocol, since clearly we need more threads in our safety net. Little lives are at risk.

Katelynn stopped going to school altogether after May 1. Irving told her concerned teacher she was heading up north to the Henvy Inlet Reserve near Parry Sound for a funeral, which was a lie. Later Irving told the principal that Katelynn couldn’t come back because she had a broken leg — yet another lie.

Even without the previous bruises and burns, here were two more flaming flags. They went unheeded, and amazingly Katelynn passed Grade 2.

It made me wonder, sitting in that sad courtroom, if Irving hadn’t called 911 the night of Katelynn’s painful and lonely death, how many months would have gone by before someone began to really worry about that beautiful child who loved to read and make snow angels?

They say “it takes a village to raise a child.” Our village needs serious repairs.

Source: Toronto Star