Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Despite tot's fractures, 'no one followed it up'

Cameron, 13 months, sent back to foster home, died

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Cameron Ouskan, the 13-month-old boy who died after being rushed to hospital from Gillam in November, was removed once from his foster home by CFS authorities but returned a month later, according to sources close to the case.

When he was removed from the foster home in September, he had a bite mark on his cheek and "flaccid" legs, possibly as the result of healing fractures.

He was also, the source says, terrified of men.

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Inexplicably, after a month of respite with another foster family, he was sent back to the home of Rod and Brenda Blacksmith.

He died there two weeks later.

"When the RCMP did their first investigation, they did clear the foster parents," says Marie Lands, CEO of the Northern Manitoba CFS Authority.

"As to why the child was returned to the home, that is the reason."

But Manitoba chief medical examiner Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra has said the child had multiple fractures in various stages of healing at the time of his death.

"It looks like everyone dropped the case," Balachandra said. "The child had fractures and no one followed it up."

RCMP spokeswoman Line Karpish says the child's death is still under investigation as a possible homicide.

Rod Blacksmith, reached at his Gillam home, said he was under orders not to discuss any aspect of the case, offer any memories of Cameron or comment on whether the RCMP consider him a suspect.

"I can't say anything right now," he said. "Maybe later I'll have a lot to say."

Initial reports depicted the Blacksmiths as loving foster parents and a devoted mom and dad to their four biological daughters.

But something dark definitely happened to little Cameron. If Balachandra is right -- and he's the expert -- someone may have abused the child over a period of time.

Cameron was a ward of the Awasis CFS agency, an organization that deals with the northern communities of Shamattawa, Cross Lake, Nelson Lake, Gods Lake Narrows, Gods Lake, Oxford House, Fox Lake and War Lake. They have 593 kids under their watch.

Since 2006, at least three Awasis children have died in care.

Most recently, Rephanniah Redhead, 14, took her own life in September 2008 after being taken from Shamattawa to Winnipeg about a year earlier for medical care.

Her death was followed by five-year-old Farron Miles, who drowned about two kilometres from his foster home at Cross Lake First Nation.

Marie Lands said Thursday that she's waiting for mandatory reviews into Cameron's death to be completed.

She could not say whether any staff members have been disciplined or suspended in the aftermath of the baby's death.

"Right now, we're just catching up on everything after the holidays," she said. "The staff at Awasis, we haven't been able to talk to David (Monias, the Awasis executive director) yet."

Cameron's death has parallels to that of two-year-old Gage Guimond, killed in 2007 while in CFS care.

He had been taken from a loving foster home and returned to family members. His parents and grandmother were unable or unwilling to look after him.

Gage was eventually placed with a distant relative. She's charged with his murder.

CFS knew all the way through that they were returning the child to a family rife with alcoholism and drug use, a situation where the child's medical needs were routinely ignored.

In this case, the desire to return a child to his cultural roots superseded his safety.

In Cameron's case, however, both sets of foster parents and the child were of First Nations ancestry.

CFS had reason to take Cameron from the home of Rod and Brenda Blacksmith. They felt they had reason to return him.

So how did the wee one end up dead?

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2009 A5

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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