The Face of Horror

Since Halloween is coming up, we are all in the “horror” mode for Halloween. Scary this, scary that. I want you to see what’s even worse or scarier than horror flicks, Halloween parties and TV horror marathons. This is the face of a child who was neglected and abused by being ignored. He was 36 days old when he died. 1 month, 6 days old. His name was Jordan Heikamp. He was a Canadian. For 36 days he was starved not only for food but attention and touch. He was ignored and did not matter to anyone, not even loved or cared for.

The only time he mattered was when his “sensational” horror story hit the news. To me, as a Child Welfare Reformer advocate, it does not matter who did it. It’s not a who done it situation here. It’s a it should never have happened in the first place situation. The logistics of who caused this child’s death in such a horrible and disgusting way does not matter so much as how it happened or why it happened.

His story is long and hard but you need to read it, you must read it.

Only in death did he begin to matter:
Jordan was mentioned by name only five times in the social worker’s 59-page service log
Alive, Jordan was only ever lightly upon this Earth. He never cracked the five-pound barrier. He knew loneliness, ignominy and the pain of hunger. His world consisted of a small darkened room at the top of the stairs in a downtown Toronto native women’s shelter, the respective confines of a donated stroller and a borrowed crib, the edges of a tightly wrapped receiving blanket around his face always bracketing his view of the passing parade.

In no real way was he seen, heard, fed. He did not matter. He did not count. He had no impact. He made no dent. When, early on the morning that would have marked Jordan’s 36th sunrise, he died, everything changed.

He became profoundly important.

The death of the baby upon whom the great Canadian welfare state had spent directly not one red cent triggered a massive outpouring of public cash, almost $2-million, the great bulk of it to defend, one way or another, the publicly funded agency that had declared him “a child in need of protection” and its employee who had failed to keep him safe — the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and social worker Angie Martin.

Round one, a 79-day preliminary hearing that saw charges of criminal negligence causing death dismissed against both Mrs. Martin and Jordan’s mother, Renee Heikamp, has already cost Ontario taxpayers a whopping $998,662 — or $12,641 a day — for Mrs. Martin and the Society’s legal representation alone.

At the same approximate hourly rates for approximately the same number of lawyers from the same firms, the tab for round two — the 53-day coroner’s inquest that yesterday went to the jurors — likely will top a minimum of another $500,000 just for Mrs. Martin and her employer.

Add to that the publicly borne costs of lawyers for Ms. Heikamp (Paula Rochman, whose wages were capped at an average $75 an hour by the Ontario Legal Aid Plan, will end up billing about $120,000 total for the two proceedings) and the other publicly funded institutions that were represented by counsel at the inquest, plus costs for Crown counsel and police at two proceedings, and salaries for the preliminary hearing judge, the inquest coroner and other courtroom staff.

But lawyers, and money, are the least of it.

Jordan died on June 23, 1997.

Though it was instantly apparent that he had wasted unto skin and bone, it took almost three weeks before forensic tests ruled out any underlying disease and experts determined that he had, indeed, died of chronic starvation. That shocking news broke first in a front-page story in The Toronto Star, complete with ominous references to an ongoing Toronto Police investigation, on Saturday, July 12. This will stand as Jordan’s posthumous birth date, because it was only then — the police sniffing about, the hounds of the press baying, the public horrified that an infant could have died this way in the very epicentre of urban affluence — that the baby began to count in the very places, and with the very people, where until then he had been invisible and insignificant.

At the head office of the Catholic CAS, one of their own apparently in jeopardy, senior agency employees swung into action with speed, efficiency and a strength of purpose that stand in sharp contrast to the way that Jordan’s actual case had been handled. The baby had only ever been mentioned by name five times in the 59-page “service log” of documents Mrs. Martin generated before he died. Three of these references Mrs. Martin copied directly from a report created by someone else; none was of the warmish personal variety with which she had frequently described his then 19-year-old mother.

But now, there was a “Baby Jordan media relations” plan quickly put in place, and one of the Society’s first corporate acts after the cause of Jordan’s death became common knowledge was to bring on board the public relations firm of Bonner Communications to help the agency respond to the barrage of media coverage.

Indeed, as events continued to unfold, this early reaction appears to have set in stone the tone of what would become the Society’s enduring response to Jordan’s death: First, try to spin the press and contain the damage; second, close ranks around Mrs. Martin; third, denounce criticism and scrutiny as mean-spirited or uninformed; fourth, cite provincial spending cutbacks as the underlying problem; finally, vigorously and to the end defend Mrs. Martin and the quality of her work because to protect her was to protect the institution itself.

Nothing captures this so well as what Colin Maloney, the Jesuit-trained theologian and philosopher who was then the agency’s long-time executive director, wrote in an internal e-mail to his entire staff on July 17, five days after the Star story appeared.

This e-mail, and more than two dozen others, were directed to “Everyone” — presumably to the agency’s 400 full-time staff. The National Post has obtained copies.

“Like many of you, when I saw the Star story, I couldn’t believe it,” Dr. Maloney wrote that day.

“When I went on vacation, I knew that a baby had died but the cause of death was unknown. Under the circumstances, the worker had acted reasonably and did what any prudent worker would be expected to do. I could not understand why this case was causing such an uproar against CCAS.”

He added, “It is discouraging to be dedicated to helping children, working without the necessary supports and then to be treated in the press as criminals.”

It had just been revealed that a five-week-old child had starved to death while under the agency’s supervision.

The police probe was barely begun.

And the Catholic CAS had undertaken no investigation of its own — indeed, it never would complete the only one it was mandated to do.

But the man at the top of the agency had already pronounced Mrs. Martin reasonable and prudent — in effect, utterly blameless — painted her as the victim of unfair attacks, and attributed to her the noble intentions and the sense of calling that are the hallmarks of the best social workers. By July 25, as Wendy Vineyard, then CCAS’s public relations manager, told employees in an e-mail, agency spokespersons, armed with statistics on the sweeping funding cuts that had begun two years previous with the election of the Mike Harris Conservatives, were being sent out for interviews where they “expressed deep sadness and concern about the death of the baby.”

By July 29, the society’s executive team had met the boss of the PR company, Allan Bonner, and in another e-mail sent this day, Dr. Maloney reported that “Michael Valpy of The Globe and Mail is writing an article which will appear in Friday’s edition.” When indeed the story appeared, with Mr. Valpy ruling the “instant inclination to blame someone, to hunt out who was responsible for Jordan’s well-being and failed him,” Dr. Maloney hailed it as “fair” and sent it out on the internal e-mail system.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that I was then working as a columnist for The Toronto Sun newspaper; in fact, it was donations from the paper’s readers that paid for the marker on Jordan’s grave. My harsh columns about this case were condemned by Dr. Maloney. As he wrote in a July 17 memo, “I think we need to hold on to the truth of our good work for this is what will remain and the articles of Christie will be long forgotten.” That said, I wasn’t the only journalist who got under his skin. Moira Welsh and Kevin Donovan were the Star reporters who broke the story of Jordan’s death as part of their award-winning series on child abuse. On Aug. 21, the executive director told his staff of a conversation he’d had that day with Ms. Welsh. “I also told her to tell Donovan that I am surprised that with so much hard work and knowledge on his part that he has found so little wisdom or compassion.”)

On Aug. 7, the society was notified that police were going to charge both Mrs. Martin and Renee Heikamp with criminal negligence causing death.

By Aug. 12, Dr. Maloney was reporting to his staff of “the humiliation and suffering that Angie is going through” — this an apparent reference to her having been subjected to a partial strip search after she had turned herself in on Aug. 8 at a police station with one of her lawyers — and regretting what he perceived as the “understandable” officers’ motive for searching her this way.

“They want to punish someone for it,” Dr. Maloney explained.

He also mentioned that the police were serving so many search warrants on the agency’s branch offices that “it raises the spectre of a fishing expedition.”

Indeed, by the time the preliminary hearing was underway, where Paul French of the Hughes, Amys firm functioned as the agency’s usual legal counsel, the Catholic CAS had also retained high-profile lawyer Brian Gover as a search-warrant specialist.

Coupled with the members of the prominent Smith Lyons law firm who were defending Mrs. Martin — Queen’s Counsel Frank Marrocco and partners Glenn Hainey and Lynn Mahoney — and in-house CCAS counsel Marvin Bernstein, who kept a watching brief on the hearing, this brought to six the number of lawyers variously involved in representing the worker and her agency.

It was also on Aug. 12 that Dr. Maloney sent staff another e-mail, praising the “quick thinking of some of Angie’s colleagues,” who, he said, had managed to shield her from the press at the police station, and thanking employees for their messages of support.

Mrs. Martin, Dr. Maloney wrote, both of them displaying a lack of irony that was remarkable in the circumstances of a starvation death, “described these messages as ‘my nutrition.’ ”

By Aug. 14, Dr. Maloney, detailing another court appearance by Mrs. Martin, described her spirits as “amazingly centered and strong,” and noted the show of support there had been from social workers, her union and senior staff.

Happily, Dr. Maloney also had a message from Mrs. Martin herself, in which she thanked her colleagues and the agency for “supporting me financially in order to be able to finally have one week of holiday with my family,” pledged her love, and signed off, sounding rather like the late comic Red Skelton, with a cheery, “God Bless you all!”

In the lengthy quote Dr. Maloney attributed to her, Mrs. Martin said, “I promise you that I will continue fighting in the name of my children and in the name of all of you. I know that I have a big responsibility and believe me that I will try hard to get up to the end. When the time comes, we will be together and we will fight together for what is right for all of us.

“I wanted to let you know that even though the pain has been so great, today after court, I have felt more confident and I have more hope that we will win.”

Win?

So it was a war, then, undeclared, but as real as any other.

The first battleground was the courts at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto where, starting in September of 1998, the preliminary hearing of Mrs. Martin and Ms. Heikamp began before Madam Justice Mary Hogan of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Known as a feminist and activist, Judge Hogan was the first woman to serve as Ontario’s deputy attorney-general (she was an appointee of former New Democratic Premier Bob Rae) and the former head of the Parkdale Community Legal Services clinic in the gritty west end of the city. It was there, as a lawyer, Judge Hogan practiced poverty law that focused on landlord-tenant matters, immigration and welfare cases, and homelessness, and also coincidentally where years later, Ms. Heikamp’s lawyer, Paula Rochman, would also hone her considerable skills as a law student.

In her now-five years in the Ontario Court, Judge Hogan has acquired a reputation as a judge either thoughtful or lenient, depending on who’s doing the talking.

Certainly, her decision in this case was controversial.

The threshold for getting a criminal charge to trial is low, much below that required for conviction. The legal test is simple: There must be some evidence upon which, a reasonable jury properly instructed by a judge, could find the accused guilty.

After testimony that was spread out over seven months, Judge Hogan threw out the charges against both women.

In essence, the judge found that Ms. Heikamp’s lies that she was taking Jordan to the doctor and that he was gaining weight explained the professionals’ collective blindness to his precarious state and thus got Mrs. Martin off the hook, and that the professionals’ blindness in turn excused the mother’s and so allowed her to wriggle off it, too.

Judge Hogan appeared to agree with Ms. Rochman’s portrayal of her client as a compliant young woman who might well have grown to become a successful parent. If only, Judge Hogan wrote, “someone had sat down with Ms. Heikamp and explained to her the critical importance of medical appointments and weight checks, she would have co-operated.”

In fact, just weeks before the preliminary hearing had begun, that arguably generous view of Renee Heikamp was put to the test.

When she had been released on bail, it was in part on the understanding that she would stay with her own mother, Dianne, at her home in a small town north of Toronto.

Neither was Ms. Heikamp required to attend the preliminary, for in the face of Legal Aid’s refusal to pay for a hotel, it would have meant a return to the shelter system from which she had just emerged, and where many of the very witnesses who would be testifying about her still worked.

And on the eve of the hearing starting before Judge Hogan, Ms. Heikamp told Ms. Rochman she was pregnant again, the pregnancy the result of a four-month liaison with a local man whose mother was already raising his son by one woman and who was at that time involved with another who had just discovered she too was pregnant

Ms. Rochman, who is both soft-hearted and hard-nosed, wasted no time phoning Ms. Heikamp’s doctor up north, who already knew a little of the young woman’s history, and filling him in on detail.

The local children’s aid was already involved, and eventually, with Ms. Rochman’s input, a plan was prepared whereby Ms. Heikamp would be allowed to keep the baby but only under careful supervision that called for daily nurse visits, regular weightings and doctors appointments.

With the authorities figuratively breathing down her neck, Ms. Heikamp did what Judge Hogan would later speculate she might have done with her first baby, Jordan — got regular checkups, in this case prenatally.

Yet her conduct fell far short of demonstrating that she could have been moulded into a reasonable facsimile of a responsible parent with only a little push, here and there: She was, after all, under the proverbial gun when she took proper care of herself during the second pregnancy.

And Ms. Heikamp did little else to support any belief that this leopard had changed her spots.

Her mother eventually revoked her surety because she was spending her days at the local Country Style. Neither did Ms. Heikamp follow through on her oft-discussed plan to return to school. Ms. Rochman would make inquiries; Ms. Heikamp would stall, and it was only when the lawyer, herself a mother of three youngsters, flatly ordered her client to bring her proof that she was attending classes that she actually ever went.

In the spring of 1999, the hearing still underway, the Toronto Police officers in charge of the case learned Ms. Heikamp was pregnant.

In short order, Detectives Frank Simone and David Needham, as well as Ontario deputy coroner Dr. Jim Cairns, who went on later to preside at the inquest, wrote stern letters to the local children’s aid, urging the baby be declared in need of protection.

As a result, five days after the little girl was born on April 1, under the threat of her imminent apprehension by the local children’s aid, Ms. Heikamp signed an agreement to place the baby in temporary care. She was sent to live with a local foster family.

What followed was the classic high melodrama upon which Ms. Heikamp seems to thrive.

She named her former lover as the baby’s biological father, then recanted, inspiring him, at the behest of his mother, to take a DNA test proving he was and provoking his family’s curious and protracted battle to win custody of the baby girl for relatives living in another Ontario city; the couple with whom Ms. Heikamp was then living, and upon whom the children’s aid was relying to keep tabs on her, split up, leaving her on her own; she moved in and out of various temporary shelters and boarding houses.

And, with no one to ride herd on her, the attention fading, the dubious excitement of the looming inquest beckoning, Ms. Heikamp just stopped showing up for her supervised access visits with her daughter. Was she bored, or had she merely lost heart?

Whichever, on two separate days last February, smack in the middle of the inquest, Ms. Heikamp signed off on the various papers that saw the little girl, who turned two just last weekend, made first a ward of the Crown and then adopted by her foster parents. The baby is reported to be the pet of a loving and stable family, and recent pictures reveal an impish, chubby child.

As Ms. Heikamp said a day or so after this deal was done, referring to herself in the odd manner of many professional athletes, “It doesn’t matter now what Renee wants. It’s what’s best for X [her daughter].”

As always, even as she mouthed the right words, they rang hollow, for as late as the last fall, she was insisting she could provide a stable home for her little girl while doing absolutely nothing to actually make one — and contributing to the almost two years it took for the baby’s fate to be decided.

With the criminal charges swept aside, Crown prosecutors had a decision to make: Should they seek the remedy of a preferred indictment from the Ontario attorney-general, which if successful would send Ms. Heikamp and Mrs. Martin directly to trial, or let the inquest proceed?

“We felt Judge Hogan was wrong at law,” Paul Culver, the veteran senior Toronto Crown, said last week.

“The consensus was, and we consulted a number of people, that Judge Hogan had made an error, that she had gone further than a preliminary hearing judge should, and made findings of credibility.”

But Mr. Culver said the system has evolved “such that the defence is part of the decision-making process,” that lawyers for Ms. Heikamp and Mrs. Martin could have made submissions, and that this, coupled with the expected delay in getting necessary transcripts from the lengthy preliminary, would have meant a trial might not have proceeded for as long as three years.

“More and more,” he said, “and my own personal philosophy has changed on this, now we [prosecutors] ask, ‘What are we going to accomplish with this prosecution?’ ” The feeling was that given the unpredictability of juries, and with a bereft young mother and a middle-aged social worker in the prisoner’s box, convictions were no sure thing. “And if we convicted either or both of them,” Mr. Culver said, “how much jail time would they get? What would it accomplish?”

In the end, knowing Dr. Cairns would call an inquest in any case, prosecutors decided better sooner than later.

In Canada, as Ontario chief coroner Dr. Jim Young wrote in his brief 1993 history, death investigation is a provincial responsibility, with some provinces, like Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick and British Columbia joining Ontario in opting for a coroner’s system, and others operating with a medical examiner’s one. In all, wide-ranging fatality inquiries or inquests may be called to examine the circumstances of a death.

The inquest is a quasi-judicial proceeding, with the coroner, a medical doctor, in the role of judge. The rules of evidence are less strict than in the criminal courts and the general tone less adversarial; the inquest jury is strictly prohibited from making findings of blame and its recommendations are usually directed to governments or the organizations they fund.

Witnesses testify with the protection of the Ontario Evidence Act, which means evidence cannot be used against them in other proceedings, though, as Dr. Young noted in his review, “in many cases, determining liability is a background issue.”

The inquest has two primary purposes, both captured in the ringing motto of the Ontario coroner’s office — “We speak for the dead to protect the living.”

Taken together, what all this should mean is that this is a better forum for a truth-seeking exercise than the criminal courts, where an accused’s liberty is at stake, his right to a fair trial paramount.

Arguably, this ought to have been particularly the case at the Heikamp inquest, for charges against the two most significant players — Ms. Heikamp and Mrs. Martin — had already been laid, and dismissed.

Yet on the morning of Jan. 9 this year, when the inquest convened before a five-member jury and Dr. Cairns, eight parties with a significant interest in the proceedings had been granted standing and the front benches were crowded with lawyers, some of them familiar faces.

Present were counsel for Northwestern hospital; for the hospital nurses; for the doctors and for CUPE, the union representing the various social workers and counsellors. For the Anduhyaun shelter was Susan Hare; for Ms. Heikamp, Ms. Rochman; for the Society, Mr. French, and for Mrs. Martin, Mr. Hainey and an intermediate-level lawyer from his firm, Emily Cole, the two of them occasionally supplanted with Ms. Mahoney.

It became quickly evident that even with the lawyers for these disparate parties appearing to blame one another, most were singing from the same songbook, and that the popular working theory was that what happened to baby Jordan was a tragedy borne of a system under siege.

This notion of systemic failure — its most beloved expression has Jordan “falling through the cracks” of a cruelly under funded safety net where overburdened social workers all strive mightily to guard their vulnerable charges — found purchase in a variety of places, in the public domain beginning with Mr. Valpy’s Globe and Mail column of Aug. 1, 1997, where he warned, “If the question is only, ‘Who do we blame?,’ we risk not asking, ‘Why did the system fail?’ ”

On just the second day of the inquest, with Dr. John Watts, a pediatrician and expert witness in the stand, Mr. French laid out the agency’s official view of Jordan’s death.

“To some extent,” Mr. French asked, “baby Jordan was born into a system, to some extent? Yes?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Watts.

“And without debating the point too extensively, sometimes when things go wrong it’s a system problem as opposed to a person problem, is that fair enough?”

Dr. Watts replied, “It’s actually more likely to be a system’s problem than a person’s problem.”

But the sum of his evidence was that the two things — system and people failures — could occur separately or co-exist, and that he found it astonishing and appalling that anyone, let alone helping professionals, “could have looked at that baby [Jordan]” and not recognized that he was very ill, as early on as a week to 10 days before he died.

Yet to varying degrees, all the central players in Jordan’s death took up this battle cry.

In the mounds of paper with which the jurors have been deluged, among hundreds of suggested recommendations, are pleas for better training (for hospital nurses; social workers; shelter counsellors; doctors and pediatricians) in dozens of areas (breastfeeding; street culture, even special courses for the various professionals to help them understand one another’s purportedly intimidating jargon) and expensive proposals such as the establishment of walk-in medical clinics within youth shelters to better catch the approximately 200 street teens who get pregnant in Toronto every year.

But the baby did not fall tumbling through great gaps in a troubled system.

The system was, albeit in the imperfect manner of a complex bureaucracy, rather perfectly in place.

Ms. Heikamp was living at the Youth Without Shelter (YWS) residence when, after years of claiming to be pregnant, she discovered she actually was.

There, she had the good fortune of having, as her primary worker, a woman she called “Mum” — Lidia Bravatti, a pragmatic type who liked the teenager, but recognized she needed an immense amount of help to prepare for motherhood and proceeded to get it for her.

Ms. Bravatti bent the rules to allow Ms. Heikamp to stay at the shelter until a sought-after spot at Massey Centre, the Cadillac of maternity homes, opened up, and talked to her at length about the life-altering responsibility that having a child brings.

Continued from part one.
In early March of 1997, Massey Centre found a room for Ms. Heikamp, and Ms. Bravatti put her into a taxi and sent her on her way.

But Ms. Heikamp instead directed the cab to another shelter, Horizons for Youth, where she stayed until she delivered Jordan at Northwestern hospital, by emergency Caesarean section, on May 18.

Essentially, her prenatal care was non-existent, but for visits to emergency rooms and walk-in clinics when Ms. Heikamp herself had a problem of one sort of another.

Pregnancy is the make-it-or-break time for young street mothers: If they begin to solve their problems during this period — show any nesting instinct and start to prepare for the baby’s arrival; stop using drugs or alcohol, if they have those difficulties (Ms. Heikamp didn’t), and take care of themselves — they likely will be good and caring parents.

A surprising number, as Ms. Bravatti put it, simply “rise to the occasion.”

But many do not, and the best test comes before they deliver. As one former long-time foster mother for an Ontario children’s aid society said last week, “At some point, they all find out they’re pregnant, and usually, they have six to nine months to get their act together; 99% of the time, if they don’t do it, if they wait until after the baby is born, the child will end up in care.”

Her experience was that she would first get a baby of four or five weeks; then the child-welfare agency would arrange for the mother to have supervised access, and the baby would be taken away for visits; then the young mother would stop showing up, the infant returned. After several months, the woman said, and she saw the proof in their fallen faces afterward, the babies simply abandoned hope.

Like Ms. Bravatti, the Northwestern nurses made Renee Heikamp for what she was– at the least, a monumentally self-absorbed young woman — almost instinctively.

Despite the initial observation of Janet Yanchula, a gentle woman with decades on the job, who was there when Ms. Heikamp first walked into the nursery after her C-section and so saw Jordan first open his eyes to the sound of his young mother’s voice, it would have taken more than this fleeting instance of tenderness to convince these seasoned realists that this was a teen mum who would manage.

They continued to watch Ms. Heikamp, on the infrequent and brief occasions she was at the nursery. Soon, they saw more than enough to alarm them, and, after discussion with a doctor, reported their suspicions about her to the Catholic CAS.

Mrs. Martin was assigned.

Again, the system had worked: A risky mother had been identified as such, and promptly reported to the appropriate authority, the agency with the statutory duty to protect Jordan.

Discharged on May 29 to Mrs. Martin and Ms. Heikamp, he should have been safe as pie.

“In this business, you cannot guarantee kids won’t get hurt or die,” Bruce Hardy, the executive-director of the Westcoast Family Resources Society in British Columbia, said in a recent interview.

“But coming into care shouldn’t make your life worse, and goddamnit, you shouldn’t die.”

But Mrs. Martin never really considered the baby her client, but rather his mother.

Her remarkably sloppy notes are replete with references to her that are so sympathetic they practically leap, cooing, from the page.

The worker recorded every emotion she saw cross Ms. Heikamp’s face and was quick to label her “very child-oriented,” inexplicably quoting her saying, of Jordan, “Is my baby,” as though this were hard evidence of her willingness to care for him.

Mr. Hardy, whose Westcoast agency works with about 100 families, the majority of them single mothers from the rough Vancouver east side, said this who-is-the-client debate is an old one. “We’ve had this in B.C.,” he said. “I guess it’s hard to relate to an infant, so workers relate to the young adult. With us, it’s black and white — the child comes first.”

Had Mrs. Martin brought even a modicum of that attitude, or a whit of the skepticism of the Northwestern nurses to her view of Ms. Heikamp, she too ought to have been alarmed.

The worker was quite correct when she wrote that this young woman, who turned 23 in January, “presents well.”

Ms. Heikamp is built like an athlete, with a powerful body and proud carriage. Her gaze is bright and focused, her wide smile engaging. For a high school dropout, she is literate and articulate (far more so than Mrs. Martin, who in her records correctly spelled barely a single name or place), reads easily, and has a wide vocabulary. She is approachable, laughs at the right times and is pleasant company.

But for all her presentation skills, there are readily apparent clues that she is, in the modern parlance, a mile long and an inch deep.

Her emotions come and go like summer storms, and for all their tumultuousness, seem to leave her essentially unaffected.

At the inquest, which she attended much of the time, she wept frequently, but for the most part, her tears came whenever the witness who was testifying was talking not about her dead child, but about her. Minutes later, she was often back to her normally sunny self.

She confides too quickly, and to those who are strangers or acquaintances, the sort of things most people tell only good friends — a trick not unfamiliar to salesmen, or for that matter reporters, who may do the same thing to inspire trust.

Her stories about her life change like the wind; her plans are built on quicksand.

For the duration of the inquest, she was still living in the town north of Toronto, and commuting, usually by bus. When things began in January, she was sharing an apartment with friends; at some point, she said she had found her own place, but it turned out to be but a room in a Christian boarding house.

One day, Ms. Heikamp would talk about how, when the inquest ended, she had a job lined up at a Mississauga restaurant (“Fine dining,” she called it); the next she was talking about going to a community college near the town; the next, she was going back to Toronto for school.

As her own stint in the witness stand was fast approaching, we walked once during a recess from the coroner’s court to a nearby Starbucks. She was nervous about testifying, so I told her the story of my experience as the key witness in a libel trial while I was still at the Sun (the paper, for the record, successfully defended the case). “If you just tell the truth,” I said, “you won’t have to worry about being tripped up.”

She asked, “But what will I say about why I lied about taking him [Jordan] to the doctor’s?”

I ended up buying her a latte that day, and a half-dozen other mornings as well. A handful of inquest regulars were doing the same thing; some recesses, Ms. Heikamp was handed two coffees.

One morning, she arrived at court late.

Ms. Rochman had just finished cross-examining a witness when Ms. Heikamp bent down and whispered in her ear. She then took a seat, and I watched Ms. Rochman get a $20 bill from her purse and put it discreetly into an envelope, which she quietly passed back to her client: Ms. Heikamp had got a ride that day from a fellow who was outside in his car, waiting for her to kick in gas money.

While at the inquest, Ms. Heikamp stayed at a hotel across the street. That cost Ms. Rochman, who wanted her client to face as much of the music as she could bear, $3,000 out of her own pocket.

And this was the most telling, and the most constant, thing about Ms. Heikamp: Renee knows how to take care of Renee. When she needs something, or wants it, she gets it. If it is probable that she genuinely didn’t know how to breastfeed, how is it possible this strong young woman could not have asked for help for her child? She is surely not stupid. Why would she have switched to formula and not bothered to glance at the directions on the can? The evidence is her breast milk was drying up by the time she left hospital and that the formula she made, with tap water, was watery gruel. Were the charms of Jordan simply wearing off?

To be perfectly fair, Ms. Heikamp came closer to accepting responsibility for her carelessness with the baby than anyone else. As Ms. Rochman once remarked privately, it was probably unrealistic to expect her to also face the truth of who, and what, she is.

This may be a simmering question, but it isn’t the burning one. Ms. Heikamp was, after all, spotted as a potential risk to her child.

But given this, given the oft-contradictory (and thus transparent) tales she spun at the drop of a hat, how could Mrs. Martin and all those at Anduhyaun, which the social worker insisted on describing as “the pregnancy home,” have bought Ms. Heikamp hook, line and sinker?

Seven Anduhyaun employees — all women, all native, most mothers themselves, and indeed, most plump and deceptively motherly looking, though they were in the main a crispy lot — testified.

The sum of their evidence was that in the 25 days that Jordan lived among them with Ms. Heikamp, they rarely heard or saw him. Only infrequently did one or another of them pick him up. Only one ever saw him unclothed, in a diaper. They claimed that though they thought him small, Ms. Heikamp’s vague mutterings about him gaining weight and eating well assuaged any slight concern that might have sprung from his appearance.

At the end of the day, it was obvious that the shelter staff had over-sold to Mrs. Martin the squishy programs they offer residents — a casual chat over a cigarette is labeled “general support” — and that she was misled about what their bragged-of “nurses” would do.

These turned out to be one genuine registered nurse, and one former nursing assistant. Their testimony, wherein they explained at length how they had never functioned as nurses but as counsellors, was some of the most profoundly insulting evidence the jurors heard.

Yet for all the failures that emerged about Anduhyaun, funded by Ontario taxpayers to tune of $621,552, the fact remains that the shelter was to the Catholic CAS, with its current budget of $57,830,244, akin to a kid sister — “a collateral,” a community resource.

By law, the CCAS and its workers cannot delegate to any collateral their legal duty.

And from painful experience, no one should have been more aware of this than those staffers, Mrs. Martin among them, who had moved to the agency’s Etobicoke/York office in west-end Toronto when the agency’s former branch in High Park closed its doors in 1994.

It was from that High Park office where, in the spring that year, a baby named Sara Podniewicz was a client of the Catholic CAS.

Almost three years to the day before Jordan was born, Sara was supposedly “receiving services” from the society, as the lingo has it.

She was six months old when, gasping for breath and probably coughing up blood, her crack-addled parents found her in her little Kanga-Rocka-Roo infant chair. She had been there, dead, long enough that the blood pooled in her body in the distinctive pattern of the chair.

It was pneumonia that killed her, but at autopsy, it was discovered that Sara had 24 broken bones, including 16 fractured ribs, broken legs and a broken arm.

Her parents, Michael Podniewicz and Lisa Olsen, were charged with second-degree murder, and in the spring of 1996, went on trial, where it became crystal-clear that Sara had been spectacularly failed by many more than her parents.

Michael Podniewicz had so badly shaken another child, the couple’s baby son Mikey Jr., that the little boy was left deaf, blind, paralyzed and with the permanent mental age he was — 10 weeks — at the time of the attack. Podniewicz was just barely out of jail, still on parole, when Sara was born.

One of the critical issues that emerged at the parents’ trial — they were convicted — was that the Catholic CAS worker had been heavily relying on a collateral called the Canadian Mothercraft Society, whose own worker was supposed to visit the family weekly.

This woman, as it turned out, made only about half of the visits, and missed seeing blatant warning signs when she did show up, once actually putting foot jingles on Sara’s fractured legs and watching cheerfully as the poor child gamely reached for her toes.

But she and the CCAS worker rarely spoke, and essentially functioned independently.

Yet there was Mrs. Martin, just a year after this much-publicized trial, this case involving a colleague from the same office surely fresh in her mind doing the same thing — de facto delegating her legal responsibility for Jordan to Anduhyaun.

It is virtually inarguable that this is precisely what the 45-year-old worker did.

After settling mother and child into Anduhyaun on May 29, Jordan then just an ounce shy of five pounds and blossoming, she saw them only once again, and, in arranging this lone visit to her office, Mrs. Martin tried to wrangle things so that Ms. Heikamp would get a sitter and come alone, presumably so she could better talk to her “real” client without distraction.

In the witness stand at the inquest, where she testified for four days despite being on medication for depression, Mrs. Martin repeatedly offered the excuse of having been frightfully overworked — made frantic by the demands of other, far more alarming cases. Why, she snapped several times, she was carrying a caseload of 38 files!

But a chart prepared for use at the preliminary hearing and obtained by the National Post, breaks down what she did every day of the baby’s short life. It reveals that many of those 38 files were closed, or virtually inactive: Jordan’s was the only case to which Mrs. Martin devoted any significant chunk of time, about 20 hours, not counting the long stints she put in on the computer.

Mrs. Martin was born and raised in Santiago, Chile.

Her first language is Spanish; she learned English only after coming to Canada in 1985.

But she learned it well enough, despite an accent that waxes and wanes, that her lawyers felt no need to supply her with a translator. She testified that at home, she and her husband, Edgar, speak to one another and their two children in both languages. And it was her bilingualism, as she acknowledged, which got her the job at the agency in 1991, the plan that she would handle mostly Spanish-speaking clients, though it ended up that she did not.

With the exception of Mary McConnville, CCAS’s current head, those employees from the agency who testified, including Mrs. Martin’s direct supervisor, praised her as a good worker who had done, at minimum, an appropriate job on the Heikamp case. Only Mrs. McConnville offered a guarded acknowledgement that some things might have been done better. And certainly, the jurors heard, Mrs. Martin has never been disciplined.

This is not the ringing endorsement one might imagine.

Sources close to the Catholic CAS say agency employees are rarely disciplined, the employer-union record virtually devoid of the sort of arbitration hearings that are routine in most organizations. Difficult employees are most often quietly urged to leave, or bought out, as apparently happened in a modest house-cleaning after Jordan’s death. Few are outright fired.

Not so at the 17-year-old organization run by Bruce Hardy.

Westcoast workers, he said last week, have sometimes complained that the agency’s child-first policy “jeopardizes work with the family. But it doesn’t. We’re honest. We tell them we’re going to put the child first, and we don’t tend to lose families.

“My workers have asked sometimes for more leeway, and my reply is, if I find you have made judgment calls that may have put a child at risk, I’ll fire you.”

When a child is hurt, the 50-year-old Mr. Hardy immediately suspends with pay the involved worker. Westcoast promptly launches an internal review, at the end of which workers have been fired, or suspended without pay and put on notice. And Mr. Hardy and his managers are equally scrutinized, every four years, by the New York-based Council on Accreditation by which Westcoast, with only 13 other Canadian agencies, is accredited.

The Catholic CAS is accredited by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), a membership-driven body that Mr. Hardy said lends its reviews “at least the perception of a conflict of interest,” if not an actual one.

As evidence of the close ties between the Ontario association and its members, in the immediate aftermath of Jordan’s death, one of Dr. Maloney’s e-mails indicated he “expected” OACAS to “communicate with all of the other societies so that they are not just left with information” about the case from the newspapers. Mrs. McConnville, who replaced Dr. Maloney, is the former OACAS boss.

His workers, like those at the Toronto Society, are unionized, but Mr. Hardy said this is no impediment to running a tight ship.

“The union has no investment in incompetence,” he said impatiently. “The union has an investment in process.” In fact, at the inquest, it was the Canadian Union of Public Employees, whose members include agency social workers and shelter workers both, which urged the jurors to make some of the toughest recommendations.

Mr. Hardy, who also teaches social work students at the University of Victoria and child and youth care students at an area community college, has been using newspaper coverage of the Heikamp inquest as a tool.

He is enraged by how agency employees have failed to acknowledge mistakes, and by the sort of limp entreaties best exemplified by what the agency’s lawyer, Mr. French, earnestly told the jurors on the first day.

They would have to wrestle, he told them, with the fact that they would be hearing from witnesses, all “decent, honest, hardworking people” who had looked upon Jordan and yet done nothing to help him.

Why should the witnesses — the Anduhyaun workers, Mrs. Martin, her supervisors — be presumed going in, each and every one, to be good? Life experience surely teaches us otherwise. In every office, are there not those who are lazy? Irresponsible? Incompetent? Even malicious?

As Mr. Hardy said, “Why should we cut more slack for professionals than we ever would with a parent? When parents screw up, we take their kids. When we screw up, it’s always an honest mistake and everyone has to be understanding.”

In this real-world context, Jordan Heikamp’s death was attributable to individual, not societal, errors. His was no accidental slippage through a worn safety net, but rather the product of a nation where many have lost their nerve. Woven into the factors at play here were many of the fuzzy-minded notions an increasing number of Canadians have come to treasure — vacuous “support” over sensible advice; employment equity over hiring on merit; the non-decision for the hard one.

As no one wanted to judge Renee Heikamp, now, they demand not to be judged.

The worker who was supervising baby Sara when she was murdered remains at the agency as a children’s services worker. Angie Martin is still an employee there, though now on long-term disability.

When the jurors return with a verdict, likely next week, and the inquest ends, the coroner’s constable, Ernie Drummond, will remove from the small notice board in the foyer of the building a handful of black magnetic letters. Mr. Drummond is of the old school. He was born and raised in Yorkshire, where young gentlemen of a certain age were always addressed in a respectful manner, and so, from this board, Mr. Drummond’s fierce, unheralded gesture, the letters he will take down read, for courtroom A, “Mstr. Jordan Heikamp.”

Master Jordan: It even sounds as dear, as outdated, as the stern values that might have saved him
*Christie Blatchford can be contacted at cblatchford@nationalpost.com

Source: http://suncanaa.com/stories

We need to remember those who did not have a voice to say remember me, help me, save me. As I watch my children grow and play and learn my heart aches for those “concrete angels” (McBribe song) that have no voice in our physical plain of existence and had none to begin with. There are no words that describe the painful ache of a child lost – no matter who did the deed – to neglect and abuse. Yes, the system is broken, we all need to stand firm and fix this broken system so that no child is left behind, no child will want for none and no child will feel the pangs of hunger, neglect or great disservice and injustice.

Every child is born with the right to be loved, advocated for and cared for. Their needs met and with a loving hand. Jordan died alone without love, without touch and without a hand to hold. 36 days old, no voice, no love, no one cared. Is this what we have become? A careless and uncaring society? Where a child without a voice must die with indignity alone, scared and without humanity. Are we really that disgraceful a society?

The sum of a society and people is added up in the way we treat those within our society that do not have a voice. Jordan, I will never forget the sacrifices you made, may you rest without pain, without indiginity and with love and a hand to hold.

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