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Local doctor pioneered child-abuse investigations

'Utterly devoted' to kids

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Dr. Charles Ferguson was in high demand as an expert witness for child-abuse cases across Canada.

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Dr. Charles Ferguson was in high demand as an expert witness for child-abuse cases across Canada. Photo Store

A Winnipeg pediatrician who became one of Canada's leading child-abuse experts has died.

Dr. Charles Ferguson died peacefully on his 82nd birthday Tuesday at his St. Norbert home. Ferguson was a founder of Manitoba's Child Protection Centre and served as its longtime director.

His expertise as a child-abuse investigator placed him in great demand as an expert witness in court cases across Canada.

"He had a remarkable career," his widow, Pat, said Wednesday. "He was really a very genuine, caring individual who wanted to make a difference. And he did."

In a 15-year period, Ferguson testified in 50 child-abuse cases from St. John's, N.L., to Vancouver and was working on a book with University of Manitoba law Prof. David Milward about his experiences as an expert witness.

He told the Free Press in a 2006 interview he didn't deal with the most horrific cases. Those ended up in the morgue, he said.

"The worst ones I get are the starving children, the emaciated bodies with numerous cigarette burns and other forms of bruising and signs of abuse," he said back then. "That combination is pretty brutal because it spells out... just how long those children have had to endure this."

Ferguson played a significant role in identifying symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.

"He was really a giant in pediatrics in this community," said Dr. Brian Postl, dean of the University of Manitoba's faculty of medicine and fellow pediatrician mentored by Ferguson.

Postl said Ferguson was a pioneer in investigating child abuse in Canada and was "utterly devoted" to children's care.

"He was remarkably engaging. He was a wonderful storyteller. He loved people, was so curious about people and how they came to be doing what they were doing and where they came from and where their names were from," he said.

Born in Cape Breton and educated in Montreal, Ferguson also worked with aboriginal communities. He supported the devolution that gave aboriginal people control over Child and Family Services. As a pediatrician at Health Sciences Centre, he worked to improve communication with remote, northern families of hospitalized children, including arranging for interpreters.

Manitoba's children's advocate, Darlene MacDonald, said in a statement Wednesday Ferguson was "a valued member of our child death review advisory council, and provided expert consultation and support to staff members as they worked to understand the stories and experiences of vulnerable children."

Ferguson worked full time at the Child Protection Centre until he was about 80. He then reduced his hours to three days a week, but he often worked more than that, his wife said, and didn't fully retire until January.

Yet, he remained on several boards, did occasional work for Southeast Child and Family Services and volunteered in Winnipeg's soccer community, long after his sons, Neil and Ross, stopped playing.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2014 B2

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