Christie Blatchford: Jeffrey could have still wound up with grandparents if Catholic Children’s Aid checked damning records


| | Last Updated: 17/10/13 12:25 AM ET




Sal Salmena, a supervisor with the Catholic Children's Aid Society at the time of the Baldwin

family file, leaves the Baldwin inquest after testifying on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

Matthew Sherwood for National Post

It is one of the most predictably useless moments of any coroner’s inquest, where a lawyer asks the inevitable of the witness: Would you do anything differently?

It’s tiresome on any number of fronts, but chiefly because, as is the mantra at such hearings, the inquest is not to assign blame, but, “moving forward,” what should be changed that the jurors might recommend to prevent another such death?

What is never said is this: Whatever the jurors recommend carries all the weight of them urging that the sun rise in the west.

The recommendations of a coroner’s jury haven’t the heft of the law, only limited moral suasion largely linked to the amount of public shaming the media, whose members have the attention spans of gnats, may have doled out during the inquest.

No one — government, agency, institution, individual — ever has to follow the jury’s recommendations. So often, no one does.

CORONER EXHIBITJeffrey Baldwin as a healthy toddler after he was removed from the care of his mother, Yvonne Kidman, and was in the custody of his grandparents.

In any case, there we were Wednesday in Toronto, at the inquest into what is always called “the tragic death” of little Jeffrey Baldwin.

Even here, the language is enragingly misleading.

Jeffrey’s death was not a mere tragedy, which suggests an element of happenstance or accident.

What it was, first, is a full-blown homicide.

His grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, murdered him, slowly, likely over years as they starved him, abused him, ruined him.

He died Nov. 30, 2002, of pneumonia and septic shock, the underlying cause chronic starvation. He was skin and bones and old-man hollows. He wasn’t even six.

FileElva Bottineau and Norman Kidman were convicted on April 7, 2006 of murdering their grandson, Jeffrey Baldwin.

And the grandparents, who were later convicted of second-degree murder and are in prison, had custody of Jeffrey and his three young siblings in significant part because no one at the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, which had been involved with the Bottineau clan since 1950, did a thorough internal records check before agreeing with or supporting Bottineau’s several custody applications in family court.

Had anyone looked in the agency’s own files, he would have found that Bottineau had been convicted in the 1969 death of her own first baby by another man, and that Kidman had been convicted of so badly beating her other two by that man that the CCAS had apprehended them directly from the Hospital for Sick Children.

In the result, starting in 1994-95, Bottineau and Kidman got custody of the first child born to their daughter, Yvonne, with the blessing of the CCAS, which had readily agreed that she was a splendid alternate caregiver and handed the first baby over to her.

The other three, including Jeffrey, followed as surely as night follows day, and by the summer of 1998, Bottineau had custody of Yvonne and Richard Baldwin’s four youngsters.

Her iron grip on all of them, but especially Jeffrey and the sister who was treated almost as badly as he was — they were locked in a fetid bedroom for hours, their own waste for company — tightened.

Back to Wednesday.

In the witness box for the second day was Sal Salmena, who is still a supervisor at the CCAS and who was the supervisor briefly in charge of the case when the agency exercised what he called “the grandma option” (he seriously pointed out that having grandparents willing to help the young parents was an advantage not every teen couple has) and that first baby was given to Bottineau.

Family photoA family photo of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin in the kitchen of his grandparents' home, taken sometime in 2002, months before he died of starvation.

He supervised the social worker, who will testify next week, only for a matter of months, but they were pivotal months, because it was this first decision, and the first anointing of Bottineau as a saintly grandma, upon which everything else that happened rested.

“You were intimately involved” for a short time with this family, lawyer Suzan Fraser, who represents the Ontario Advocate for Children and Youth, told Mr. Salmena.

“Would you do anything differently?” she asked.

“As I said,” Mr. Salmena replied, “if I would have had the information that we have now, we would have taken a whole different direction.”

“How do you feel knowing that information was in your files?” Ms. Fraser asked.

“I feel terrible that we did not have it,” Mr. Salmena said.

Then Ms. Fraser, in her very gentle way, snapped at Mr. Salmena’s persistent euphemistic phrasing.

“It wasn’t that you didn’t have the information,” she said flatly. “You didn’t find it.”

It is the very definition of a difference with a distinction.

CORONER EXHIBITJeffrey Baldwin as a healthy toddler after he was removed from the care of his mother, Yvonne Kidman, pictured, and was in the custody of his grandparents.

In those days, it wasn’t a requirement that alternate caregivers like grandparents be checked out, though workers were hardly forbidden to do so.

And some of the data would have been difficult to get at, in that it was aged and on microfiche. But some of it — enough to raise the alert — was more recent.

And some of that information, as the jurors have been told by a records expert from the agency itself, should have popped up had anyone run Yvonne Kidman’s name through the agency’s own computer system, a check that was ostensibly mandatory.

How can we have any confidence if you’d had the information you’d make a different decision? How can we have any comfort given what happened with Elva Bottineau’s other three kids?

Now, when Norman Kidman beat the hell out of Bottineau’s son and daughter by the other man, the agency quickly snatched the children, who were ultimately made Crown wards.

But it left with the grandparents — both of them now convicted abusers and demonstrably dangerous to kids — Yvonne and her two sisters, all of them younger and at least as vulnerable as the two who had been seized.

Thus, the fallacy of Mr. Salmena’s contention that if the CCAS had only looked for and found the damning records in its own files, different decisions would have been made about Jeffrey and his brother and sisters.

As Ms. Fraser said once angrily, “How can we have any confidence if you’d had the information you’d make a different decision? How can we have any comfort given what happened with Elva Bottineau’s other three kids?”

The inquest is off the rest of this week and resumes Monday.


Source  National Post

Where would be without Christy Blatchford?