In­ves­ti­ga­tion into Seren­ity’s death plagued by er­rors: Paula Si­mons

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA SI­MONS psi­mons@postmedia.com Twit­ter.com/Pau­lat­ics face­book.com/PaulaSi­mons Com­men­tary

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 the Jour­nal 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 the Jour­nal 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.”

Three years af­ter tod­dler Seren­ity died while in “kin­ship care,” the RCMP has yet to gather all the child’s of­fi­cial med­i­cal records, Paula Si­mons writes.

Seren­ity, a four-year-old In­dige­nous girl, died al­most three years ago af­ter be­ing placed in “kin­ship care” over the ob­jec­tions of her birth mother.


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