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Inquest hears of glaring issues before, after baby's death

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The inquest into a child’s death at a native women’s safe house heard that drug and alcohol use was rampant at the facility at the time the child was killed.

Inquest counsel Bruce Sychuk said the public would be shocked to learn that the Native Women’s Transition Centre is nothing more than a nice rooming house with "the inmates running the asylum."

Sychuk made his comments during final submissions into the inquest into the November 2009 death of Jaylene Redhead, who was 21 months old when her mother Nicole suffocated the child in her room at the NWTC.

Submissions from counsel continue Friday before Provincial court Judge Larry Allen adjourns to write his final report.

Nicole Redhead pleaded guilty to manslaughter after she admitted to suffocating Jaylene while living at the shelter under the supervision of the Awasis aboriginal child and family services agency.

Sychuk said NWTC staff were "good-intentioned individuals who lacked direction," adding NWTC’s mandate was to empower and provide a safe haven for women but not necessarily a safe place for children.

Sychuk’s assessment was shared by Judge Allen, who said: "I don’t think the public would accept if there is rampant drug use going on (at NWTC)."

Sychuk said the evidence showed there was poor internal and external communication at Awasis, where there were several examples of vital documents being filled out incorrectly.

Awasis case workers were caring and hard-working individuals, Sychuk said, whose efforts were often undermined by their failure to make proper notes and fill out documents properly.

Sychuk said Awasis made no effort to present information or staff to a special investigator from the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), who harshly criticized the agency’s handling of the child.

The OCA report concluded the agency had failed to ensure the child’s safety, and that it had not met the basic standards of care management.

However, both Sychuk and Awasis counsel found fault with the special investigator who wrote the OCA report.

Sychuk said Justine Grain lacked the child welfare experience necessary to conduct such an investigation.

Awasis lawyer Jeff Harris was more pointed in his criticism of Grain, saying that she had a bias against Awasis.

Harris said that Grain deliberately left out any information in her report that would have shown Awasis in a positive light.

Harris asked Judge Allen to not place any weight on the OCA report.

Harris said Grain had the mandate to interview anyone she felt necessary but she refused to interview several of the Awasis case workers who had dealt with Nicole and Jaylene Redhead.

Grain "ignored evidence that conflicted with (her) conclusion," about Awasis, Harris said.

Nicole Redhead had killed her daughter by placing her hand over her mouth and holding it there for up to two minutes. After the baby’s body went limp, she placed her in her crib, where she was not discovered by NWTC staff for several hours.

Awasis had seized Jaylene in October 2007, shortly after her birth and obtained a series of guardianship orders. By December 2008, Awasis supported the child’s return to Nicole Redhead in a controlled setting, living at NWTC under Awasis supervision.

Redhead’s two older children had been seized by child welfare authorities and she was pregnant with a fourth child at the time of the killing and that child has been made a permanent ward.

At Nicole Redhead’s sentencing hearing, it was revealed that little Jaylene had suffered more than 30 separate injuries to nearly every part of her body in the days before she died, including several bite marks to her legs, and severe bruising to her vagina as a result of being kicked so hard it left a footprint impression.

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

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