Report finds Ontario child’s likely murder was ‘predictable and preventable’

In a CityNews exclusive, a report for the chief coroner finds Keira Kagan died with her father in what was likely a murder-suicide that was an act of revenge against her mother. Cynthia Mulligan on how the system failed to protect the little girl.

By Cynthia Mulligan

A new and damning report by a group of family violence experts has determined the death of four-year-old Keira Kagan, was “extremely consistent” with a murder-suicide, and that it could have been prevented.

In February 2020, the bodies of Keira and her father, Robin Brown, were found at the bottom of a cliff in Milton’s Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area. Just days before, fresh alarm bells had been rung about Brown, yet she was sent into his care for the weekend.

A report by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, obtained by CityNews, shows the system that was supposed to protect Keira failed, despite multiple warning signs.

“Every parent wants to protect their child, this is every victim of violence’s worst nightmare and it did come true,” said Keira’s mother, Jennifer Kagan.

The report also concluded that Brown was likely acting out of revenge.

“The deaths may have been retribution on the part of the father against the mother for terminating the relationship, re-marrying a new partner, and having a new family and/or for the on-going family court litigation,” read the report.

At the time of their deaths, the cause was deemed inconclusive, the coroner subsequently asked the specialist review committee to investigate the circumstances.

The committee found Brown exhibited at least 22 risk factors of intimate partner homicide.

For a death to be considered “predictable and preventable,” the committee must identify at least seven.

Brown’s risk factors included:

  • A history of domestic violence with previous partners;
  • Prior hostage-taking or forcible confinement;
  • Choked/strangled the mother in the past;
  • And prior violence against family pets.
The full list of risk factors Robin Brown showed, as listed in the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee report.

The full list of risk factors Robin Brown showed, as listed in the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee report.

A lifelong custody dispute

Citing physical and psychological abuse, Kagan, who is a doctor, left her short marriage to Brown, an engineer, when Keira was eight months old. The dispute for custody of their daughter lasted the rest of Keira’s life.

Even though various judges heard Brown had been an abusive husband, and concluded he had a propensity to lie, breached court orders, and submitted forged documents to the courts, every layer of the system failed to either understand the risk or act on it.

RELATED STORY: Mother says the death of her 4-year-old daughter could have been prevented

From the parenting assessor, a psychiatrist who couldn’t determine which parent was telling the truth, to two different Children’s Aid Societies involved, and the judge who awarded Brown 50 per cent custody, despite the abuse Kagan detailed.

“I was screaming and shouting from the rooftops talking about all of this around Brown’s pathological lying, all of the concerns for Keira’s emotional and physical well being,” shared Kagan.

“Assuming the validity of all the allegations, I am of the view that there is no risk to Keira,” the judge ruled

“He was of the view domestic violence is not relevant to parenting,” said Kagan, “But that is false.”

Research cited by the federal government shows children are at greater risk if a parent has been abusive to their spouse.

“There is considerable overlap with domestic violence and child abuse. Research has found that in families where domestic violence occurs, child abuse is often present,” read the research.

Protection application ‘could wait until Monday’

When Keira was three, Kagan remarried and had a baby boy with her husband, Philip Viater, a lawyer specializing in family law.

In the weeks before Keira died, as Brown’s behaviour got worse, a judge asked for a risk assessment.

Three days before she died, when Brown was scheduled to pick her up from school for the weekend, a caseworker with Jewish Family and Child Service validated Kagan’s worst fears.

“She called us and said that Brown was displaying behaviour that is consistent with someone who hurts or kills their own child and she wanted to put a protection application in – but her supervisor said it could wait until Monday,” said Kagan.

Brown was also given the findings of the risk assessment.

“They gave him report on Wednesday, he picked her up Friday and killed her Sunday,” said Viater.

“The worst thing they could do is give him that report, just before he is to have the child,” added Kagan.

RELATED: Child’s death likely ‘predictable and preventable.’

Shortly after Keira’s death, the caseworker visited her grieving mother. Viater recorded the conversation. In it, the worker acknowledged her concerns.

“What I said was the behaviours he was showing was the same behaviours you see in the guys that go out and kill their kids … I don’t deny saying that,” said the caseworker, in the recording.

“I had a gut feeling you were bang on that he was a sociopath … here’s the reality, I had zero evidence he would do something like this,” the caseworker added.

Viater disagrees. “She’s wrong, she actually had a ton of evidence.”

Working to change family law culture

Kagan has filed a lawsuit against Jewish Family and Child Service. A spokesperson for the organization declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality.

Three years later, this new report brings Kagan validation, but it doesn’t ease the grief of losing Keira.

“The courts and the child protection services didn’t allow me to protect my child. My ability to mother Keira was taken away and that’s a hard pill to swallow,” said Kagan.

The judge who awarded 50/50 custody to Brown, after saying domestic abuse had no relevance when it came to parenting, had a background in labour law.

The domestic violence report has made multiple recommendations, including enhanced training in family violence and coercive control for judges, employees of children’s aid societies, and those making custody assessments.

Despite this report and all the evidence, Keira’s death has still not been officially ruled a murder. The chief coroner or an inquest jury must make that determination.

This article is the first part in a series. Next, CityNews will look at the systemic issue in the courts that experts believe put Kiera in harms way.

With files from Meredith Bond and Jessica Bruno

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