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Jeffrey's Terrable Death

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Fri, June 9, 2006
Jeffrey Baldwin's terrible death at his grandparents' revives decades-old questions about CAS accountability

By MARK BONOKOSKI




Unless there is another hiccup in the system, the Grandparents Grimm -- custodial low-lifes Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman -- will finally be sentenced today for the tortuous second-degree murder of their grandson, the only curiosity being the length of time the jailer's key will be thrown away before they can apply for parole.

When 5-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin died from the brutality and starvation they had inflicted upon him, his weight was that of a 10-month-old baby -- his years, according to Ontario Justice David Watt, "eked out" in the "miserable existence" of a locked room described as a frigid, urine-soaked "dungeon" coated with the filth of human feces.

What that young boy endured is almost impossible to fathom, and no sentence his abusers receive today will ever do him justice.

Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman are simply a waste of air, and no mercy should be given.

An eternity in hell, in fact, would not be too kind.

NO BACKGROUND CHECK

If there is any future good that can come from the horror surrounding this tragedy, it is that Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. Barry McLellan, has ordered an inquest into Jeffrey's death -- with the focus rightly centred on the Catholic Children's Aid Society.

For it was that agency -- a taxpayer-funded, social safety net geared towards child protection -- that handed the boy over to his eventual killers when a simple background check would have uncovered a family steeped in child abuse.

In 1998, when Jeffrey's own parents were being investigated for child abuse, and he and his siblings were seized, the CCAS never opposed Bottineau's bid for legal custody of her daughter's children -- meaning they never checked their files to learn that Bottineau, as a teenage mother, was herself convicted of assault causing bodily harm in the 1970 pneumonia death of her battered first child, Eva.

Then there was Bottineau's husband, Norman Kidman, whose documented history has him convicted of the extreme beatings of two of Bottineau's children from a previous marriage -- another record easily accessed by the CCAS.

Yet into those abusive arms young Jeffrey Baldwin was tossed, along with three other siblings.

There is one office, however, that might have caught Jeffrey Baldwin in mid-toss -- if the government of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had listened when it adopted Bill 210 -- amendments to the Child and Family Services Act that promised, among other things, a stronger, and timelier, complaints process within all children's aid societies.

NO COMMITMENT

For it was then that Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin was deep in meetings with government officials, trying to convince them that the independence of his office offered the ideal arm's-length place for CAS complaints to be handled.

"I did my fair share of glad-handing but received no more than a sympathetic response," Marin tells me.

"What I didn't get, however, was a commitment and, quite frankly, nor is there any commitment in sight.

"Bill 210 presented the perfect opportunity to provide oversight of the CAS, and they let the opportunity slip by," says Marin. "And not for the first time."

Way back in 1975, for example, the province's first ombudsman, renowned criminal lawyer Arthur Maloney, was pushing buttons to have his office oversee the CAS.

"But we missed the boat then, and we're missing it now," says Marin. "We need to think only of the misery and death of Jeffrey Baldwin to realize the true value in having the ombudsman's office involved.

"But, as it stands, my office cannot investigate cases like Jeffrey's because of the limits placed on it.

"And that's frustrating considering what happened."

Although Marin's office monitors the coroners' court system, he has not yet been invited to participate in the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest -- which is somewhat ironic.

"After 30 years, the time has come to again raise the profile of the CAS issue," says Marin.

'IT MAKES NO SENSE'

"Ontario is the only province where the CAS is outside any independent oversight -- despite using public money to fulfil a state function of providing care for children in need of protection, and despite having a provincial mandate which should be under my direction except for the technical reason that they are not deemed to be 'governmental organizations.'

"It makes no sense, but that's the way it is."

It should come as no surprise, however, that the CAS umbrella organization wants no part of Marin's office not only monitoring CAS operations province-wide but being the go-to place for complaints.

As Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, put it: "(Andre Marin) has not very well articulated to the public the number of accountability mechanisms that exist (within CAS)."

This does not mean, though, that Marin will go away.

Marin's response?

"The CAS talks of having 17 different oversight mechanisms," he says. "Truth is, I don't know how they can say it and say it with a straight face.

"In light of what happened to Jeffrey Baldwin, I am surprised by the rabid reaction of the CAS.

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