A woman who so severely neglected and starved her grandson that he wasted away and died in her care began testimony at a coroner’s inquest Wednesday by denying she was responsible for his death.
When Jeffrey Baldwin died in 2002 at age five, he had withered away to the weight of a baby, unable to lift his own head, the inquest has heard.
His grandmother, Elva Bottineau, who had custody of Jeffrey and his three siblings, kept the boy and one of his sisters in a cold, fetid room, where they slept among their own waste.
Before Bottineau began her testimony, coroner’s counsel Jill Witkin reminded her that she was not allowed to undermine the findings of fact the courts made in convicting her of second-degree murder.
Jeffrey was chronically starved and he died because Bottineau failed to give him the necessary food and medical treatment, Witkin said.
“I disagree,” said Bottineau, shaking her head.
The short, stout woman with long grey hair dyed maroon and wearing a flowery T-shirt was brought from Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., for her testimony, which is expected to last two days.
Bottineau requested standing about halfway through the inquest, which began in September, and coroner Peter Clark ruled that standing must be given to anyone with a “direct and substantial interest” in an inquest.
Her testimony will be restricted so that she cannot try to reargue her conviction, though some of the lawyers involved in the inquest have questioned whether, with an IQ of 69, she will be able to follow instructions.
A lawyer for Jeffrey’s surviving siblings read a statement from them Wednesday, saying they are doing well since being removed from the “horrors” of Bottineau’s house and now have loving, supportive foster parents.
They have grown up in separate homes but have regular contact, often having dinner at each other’s homes and going on an annual camping trip, said lawyer Freya Kristjanson.
“Despite their horrific early upbringing, the children have all made tremendous gains and are getting on with their lives,” she said. “The siblings will always be impacted by their experiences.
However, their resiliency is truly inspiring.”
The eldest sister is now in university, the sister who shared a room with Jeffrey and much of the same neglect and mistreatment is a “kind, gentle and courageous” girl in high school hoping to go to college and Jeffrey’s younger brother is a “bright, humours and strong-willed,” boy who also dreams of going to college, Kristjanson said.
Bottineau wept on the stand as she recalled her own troubled upbringing and how her mother and stepfather forced her to drop out of school in Grade 9 to help care for some of her 15 siblings.
Both Bottineau and her partner Norman Kidman had previous convictions for child abuse when they were granted custody of Jeffrey and three siblings _ something the Catholic Children’s Aid Society only discovered in its files after Jeffrey’s death.
The family’s caseworker has testified that she had no concerns about Bottineau, who she thought was a reliable pillar of support when compared to Jeffrey’s often-volatile teenage parents, so she never conducted any records checks on her or Kidman.
Had those checks been done, workers would have found a disturbing history of child abuse.
After Bottineau’s first baby died of pneumonia in 1969 doctors found multiple untreated fractures and she was convicted of assault causing bodily harm.
Two different psychological evaluations cast major doubts on Bottineau’s ability to care for children.
Bottineau then had two more children, who were made Crown wards following a severe beating by Kidman that landed them in hospital.
He was convicted of two counts of assault causing bodily harm.
Those two children later alleged horrific abuse and neglect, including being tied to their beds and locked in dog crates.
After those two kids were removed from the home, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society supervised Bottineau’s care of her and Kidman’s three daughters for a time.
There were records of abuse investigations in the following years, including allegations made about some children Bottineau cared for as a foster “day mom.”
Meanwhile, city of Toronto workers planned Wednesday to replace a tree planted in Jeffrey’s memory in Greenwood Park that was recently vandalized. A bench that was part of the memorial for Jeffrey was also to be returned to the park after being refurbished.
The CCAS has implemented many changes since Jeffrey’s death, including various iterations of record-keeping systems, but a CCAS manager has testified that gaps still remain.
The coroner’s inquest is not looking to assign blame, but rather is exploring systemic issues surrounding Jeffrey’s death. The jury can make recommendations aimed at preventing such situations in the future.