THE BUREAUCRATIC HORROR SHOW BEHIND TRAGIC SERENITY’S DEATH
EDMONTON When the RCMP called her this past June, Serenity’s mother was surprised.
After all, it had been almost three years since her four-yearold daughter died at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
It was Sept. 18, 2014, when Serenity was airlifted to Edmonton with catastrophic head injuries and severe hypothermia. She died nine days later, after being removed from life support.
No one has ever been charged in the little girl’s death, nor in relation to the physical and sexual abuse she appeared to have suffered before she died.
So imagine her mother’s confusion when RCMP told her they didn’t yet have all of her child’s official medical records.
“They told me they needed those papers before they could decide whether to charge someone or not,” said Serenity’s mother.
(I can’t name the mother under terms of Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, because to do so might identify Serenity’s surviving older halfsiblings.)
RCMP said they needed her to sign a release to allow Alberta Health Services to release Serenity’s full file. Eager to co-operate, she signed the necessary papers. Then RCMP called her with what she calls “terrible news.”
Alberta Health Services said they wouldn’t release the records.
“They wouldn’t turn it over, not even with my signature.”
When she told me this story, I was gobsmacked.
How was it possible that it had taken almost three years for RCMP to request copies of Serenity’s full medical history? And how could AHS refuse to release such critical evidence?
Turns out, this is just the latest set of mistakes and miscommunications of the sort that have bedevilled the investigation of the Indigenous girl’s death over the last three years.
As Postmedia first reported last November, Serenity had been removed from a foster home off reserve, where she was thriving, and placed, over the mother’s strenuous objections, with relations on reserve. Despite repeated reports of abuse, the province swiftly awarded permanent guardianship to those “kinship care” providers, and closed the files on Serenity and her two older siblings.
A year later, Serenity was hospitalized with blunt force trauma to her skull. Her body was covered in deep bruises and welts, not just on her arms and legs, but on her anus and vagina. The preschooler weighed just eight kilograms, less than 18 pounds, the typical weight of a nine-month-old baby.
The Edmonton Police Service quickly opened an investigation. But because the three children lived outside the city, the case was handed to RCMP.
Then, the bureaucratic horror show began. First, the medical examiner’s office, understaffed and in a state of management chaos, failed to complete an autopsy report for more than two years.
On top of that, the province and the child welfare agency responsible for Serenity’s case failed to turn over a key internal review of Serenity’s care to the RCMP.
The Mounties only got those essential records after a public report from the child and youth advocate and a subsequent investigation by Postmedia put Serenity’s case in the public eye.
Normally, the RCMP would turn a homicide investigation over to its senior and expert major crimes unit. Instead, they kept the investigation with the local detachment. And there it remains.
Turns out the RCMP did have many of Serenity’s medical records. But in some cases they got photocopies of those documents from Serenity’s mom, and not from AHS.
So the Crown made police go back and start over.
“The Crown wants to make sure this is a full and fair investigation,” said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Jack Poitras. “We are trying to make sure all the protocols are followed and that all the evidence gathered will stand up in court. Even if the mother gave us documents from the doctor, we have to do it properly.”
Fair enough. So why didn’t police request these records, through proper channels, three years ago? For that, there seems no answer.
Meanwhile, AHS is in a legal bind. It can’t just turn over all of Serenity’s private medical history. Under Alberta’s Health Information Act, the agency can release records “for the purpose of complying with a subpoena,
warrant or order issued or made by a court.” But if RCMP don’t get the necessary order, AHS can’t release the documents.
And it seems RCMP never applied for the necessary production order.
It is, to use the technical legal term, a complete gong show.
Alberta Justice has little to say about all this.
“This is an active case with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service,” department spokesman Dan Laville told me by email this week.
“Our understanding is that the RCMP has received the materials they have requested at this time. As this case is active, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Serenity’s mother has full custody of her older children, now 10 and eight, whom she believes were also abused and starved in the same home. But they won’t be returning to Alberta, she said, while the people she holds responsible for her children’s abuse are free.
“You should be able to say to your children, ‘ Yes, those bad people have gone away.’ A child should be able to feel safe,” said their mother.
She can’t understand the way authorities have handled this case.
“I feel that I’m not being told the truth, that there’s something going on in the background. They lead me on and lead me on and lead me on, and nothing’s being done.”
No one was ever charged in the death of four-year-old Serenity.