Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The system put Gage in harm's way

Boy's great-aunt not only one who should have been on trial

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The last tragic note of Gage Guimond's short life has sounded.

His great-aunt, Shirley Guimond, was handed an 18-month conditional sentence for her role in the toddler's death Tuesday morning. She faces an additional three years of probation. Guimond pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life.

Last November, Guimond also pleaded guilty to assault cause bodily harm for injuries both Gage and his sister sustained from her slapping and punching them. Then, a judge said Guimond would do no further time in jail for the assault charge, giving her double credit for 68 days she'd already spent behind bars.

So, in essence, Guimond's official punishment will be shorter than Gage's life. That's some irony, isn't it?

I've said all along that Guimond shouldn't have been the only one facing judgment. She knocked the stuffing out of Gage and his sister, to be sure. She was responsible for causing the little boy's death and the battery of the girl. She was given children to care for and plain didn't.

But it's the child welfare system that merrily handed a pair of innocents to this stranger. She didn't want them. Neither did the drunken granny they first tried to saddle with the kids. Their mother was incapable of taking care of them. The only people who wanted them were their foster family, a great bunch who provided them with the first stability they had known.

In its great wisdom, the Southern CFS Authority wrenched those children from the foster home. They wanted to "reunite" them with family, kin who would allegedly provide them with appropriate cultural supports. That's why they first foisted them off on granny and then on Shirley Guimond, who has a criminal record.

When Guimond made two desperate phone calls to CFS begging for help dealing with the children she was ignored. She shouldn't have been the only one on trial.

After the boy was buried, the Southern Authority issued a report on his death. Appallingly, they called him "a warrior for change," somehow making it sound as though this wee one had volunteered to be sacrificed.

"Death is an evolutionary process of the natural world and of the universe," the preamble read. "Death is the balance to life; the two evolutionary processes keep the universe intact. The natural composition of evolution of death and life and as good as it is will have unnatural occurrences or causes; it is the way of the universe."

Death may be natural but Gage Guimond's sure wasn't. He was killed, first by the neglect of an aunt who didn't want him and next by a child welfare system that put cultural reunification ahead of a child's safety. It sets my teeth on edge that the Southern Authority has never acknowledged its role in the death.

Natasha Guimond, Gage's mother, stood outside the Law Courts yesterday morning, condemning a system that led to her son's death. She's a little late to this party, it's true, and in an ideal world would have been capable of raising her two babies. But she wasn't and didn't and that doesn't mean she's not still mourning.

"I obviously wanted Shirley locked up," she said.

"Who in their right mind puts a high chair at the top of the stairs? Why did my kids have all those bruises? Where's the workers who placed Gage with Shirley?"

Natasha Guimond gets to see her surviving child once every three months and then only under supervision. The little girl was returned to her foster family after Gage was killed. She gripes because she sees her daughter in a controlled setting "with broken toys."

She's lucky to see the girl at all. That supervision is to belatedly provide safety and precarious security to the child.

As much or as little sympathy as you have for the birth mother, she's not the one on trial. Shirley Guimond was and skated away. The child welfare system should have been put on trial, too, from the first social worker who decided to take the children from their foster home to the agency that produces lengthy reports but can't guarantee the safety of the children in its care.

Gage didn't have to die. It was the system that placed him in harm's way.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2010 A4

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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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