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June 20, 2003 06:14 AM The Toronto Star

Lived tragic lives, died tragic deaths Five young people victims of system They could have been saved: Report


One teen died after a worker charged with her care sat on her back. Another lost his life due to a lack of proper medical treatment. And a third hanged herself while in a detention centre — one of several cries for help during her young life.

These troubled, sick children are among the six young people who died in Ontario-run institutions since 1996. A report released this week by Defence for Children International charges they would still be alive had the province not severely restricted the powers of the Office of Child and Family Service Advocacy.

Yesterday in the Legislature, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty attacked the government's record, asking, "Why have you failed to protect children in care in the province of Ontario?" Brenda Elliott, the minister of community, family and children's services, replied that the Conservatives have enhanced child protection and responded to coroners' inquests calling for more powers for those overseeing children in care.

Inquests into five of the six deaths issued a total of 298 recommendations. The following are snapshots of those five children whose lives and deaths became part of the public record.

In 1996, James Lonnee became the first young offender to die in an Ontario jail.

According to a coroner's report, Lonnee "got into trouble with the law at an early age" and spent much of his youth in secure-custody facilities. He moved between 13 different residential and detention centres between 1995 and 1996 alone.

In early September, 1996, Lonnee, described as highly impulsive, restless and immature for his age, was transferred from the Brookside Youth Centre in Cobourg to the Wellington Detention Centre in Guelph.

While waiting to appear in court, the 16-year-old was placed in a cell, where he was severely beaten by his cellmate.

A nurse discovered Lonnee after she peered through the cell's food slot and saw him lying on the floor, bleeding from the top of his nose and his mouth. He was taken to hospital in Guelph and later transferred to Hamilton General Hospital, where he succumbed to a head injury on Sept. 7.

Among 120 recommendations, a coroner's jury called for the abolition of segregation cells for young offenders.

An inquest found that Stephanie Jobin died from severe brain damage shortly after a staff worker at a Brampton group home sat on her back with a beanbag chair for 20 minutes.

The 13-year-old autistic girl stopped breathing while two female workers were restraining her on June 17, 1998. The second employee held the teen's legs while helping force her to lie face down on the living room floor of Digs for Kids on Vodden St.

Three days later, Stephanie was pronounced dead.

In the months leading up to her death, workers were increasingly forced to restrain Stephanie for biting, head butting and pulling out the hair of her caregivers. She was also pulling out her own hair and slamming her own head against the wall.

The jury at an inquest into her death last December heard Stephanie was placed in the group home and supervised by $10-an-hour caregivers when she should have been at a specialized-care facility with access to health-care professionals. Only one such facility exists in Ontario, the jury was told, and it had no room for Stephanie, a ward of the Peel Children's Aid Society.

Less than one year after Stephanie's death, 13-year-old William Edgar, a ward of the Toronto Children's Aid Society, died after being restrained by a staff member at a group home east of Peterborough in a similar incident.

A child prone to "uncontrollable acts of rage," his outbursts of impulsive, aggressive and destructive behaviour escalated when he learned of his birth father's sudden death in 1996.

After bouncing in and out of foster homes and care facilities in the Toronto area, William was placed at the Keene Residence of the Cavan Youth Services outside of Peterborough in 1997. There, he was frequently restrained by staff members working to calm his destructive behaviour.

On March 29, 1999, when he began to swear and stomp his feet, he was restrained by a 250-pound worker, who held him face down on the floor, according to an inquest into his death.

William died later that night.

The inquest jury called for the province to outlaw the face-down restraint method.

On the day Joshua Durnford, 18, died, the nurse assigned to check his condition at Maplehurst Detention Centre in Milton didn't even open his cell.

An inquest into the Feb. 15, 2000, death of the teen, who had been under the care of the children's aid society since the age of 10, revealed his life could have been saved had he been given proper medical treatment.

A diagnosed "homosexual pedophiliac," Durnford lived in 16 different residential and custodial facilities while growing up. Following several assaults in various group homes, he was sent to Maplehurst, where his condition slowly deteriorated.

In the four days leading up to his death, Durnford complained to staff members of headaches and had difficulty speaking. He had problems dressing himself, was sweating profusely and was found on Feb. 14 lying face down on his mattress, shaking uncontrollably. Staff noted him to be "weak and sweaty" with failing motor skills and slurred speech.

The inquest jury heard that on the morning of his death, a nurse doing medication rounds was asked to see the teen, who could no longer stand. The nurse on duty looked through the door hatch but did not enter the cell.

At 10 a.m., Durnford was transferred to Milton Hospital after Maplehurst staff found him unresponsive, lying in a pool of urine on his mattress. He was pronounced dead at 12:02 p.m.

Durnford, who had a history of "extreme behaviour and interpersonal disturbances," according to a coroner's report, died of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a side effect of two neuroleptic medications used to treat psychotic illnesses. Staff at Maplehurst failed to review the side effects of the medications or take his temperature, the inquest found.

A teenaged girl who battled depression and bounced from foster home to youth detention centre had her first encounter with the Toronto Children's Aid Society after a suicide attempt in February, 2001.

Suffering from issues of abandonment and isolation, the girl was placed in a Brampton foster home after spending two weeks in the adolescent psychiatric unit at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Following an assault charge for an incident with another child at the foster home, her behaviour declined steadily. She began skipping school and eventually ran away from her foster home. In late June, 2001, she was placed at MacMillan Youth Centre, a detention facility in Milton — the eventual site of her death.

The teen, who had made two previous attempts on her life, was sent to her room for misbehaviour three days after arriving at MacMillan. She constructed a noose from curtains hanging on her bedroom window and hanged herself, an inquest into her death determined. She was pronounced brain-dead on July 3.

She was only 14.

Jurors at the inquest were told no one at MacMillan was informed that the girl was a suicide risk.

At the end of the five-week hearing, jurors made 32 recommendations, including better training for those who work with children.

With files from Caroline Mallan