Canadian Children's Rights Council
Conseil canadien des droits des enfants
Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

The Globe and Mail

Some mothers have had enough hugs

The Globe and Mail (Canada's largest national newspaper) , By CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD, Friday, October 6, 2006 Page A1

Toronto - As a female friend of Frances Elaine Campione put it, this after Ms. Campione was charged on Wednesday with murder in the death of her two young children, "That mother needs a hug."

In that line, widely repeated in Toronto and national media outlets, is a telling clue to what is so wrong with much of what happens both in the nation's family courts and in its child-protection system -- the pervasive view of the female of the species as constantly nurturing (except, you know, when she allegedly kills) and as in need of constant nurture (hugs all 'round, no matter what).

For the record, Ms. Campione was arrested two days ago after she phoned 911 to report that there were two dead children inside her Barrie, Ont., apartment, and shortly after, didn't police arrive to find the bodies of her own little girls, one-year-old Sophia and three-year-old Serena.

She and her estranged husband Leo were reportedly in the throes of a nasty custody battle, with Mr. Campione accused of assaulting his wife and the older child, and Ms. Campione allegedly alarmed, and/or depressed, at the prospect of losing that fight.

And The Globe has confirmed that involved with the family was the Children's Aid Society of Simcoe County. At the moment, the nature of that involvement is unknown -- except as it has been reported by neighbours who saw social workers at the apartment and say that, for a time recently, the girls lived with their paternal grandparents.

But Ontario deputy chief coroner Jim Cairns said yesterday his office has already launched its own investigation of "all aspects of official agencies, including children's aid, in this family."

That probe is separate and distinct from the criminal investigation, and only in its infancy.

But it is surely already safe to say that whatever the CAS of Simcoe County role, it was not a resounding success. The agency had an open file on the family; two children who were living with their mother end up dead: It doesn't take an investigation to know this case is unlikely to end up on a social work school poster.

Coincidentally, also in the news yesterday were the first reports of what is known in Newfoundland as the "Turner Review", the enormous, 1,000-plus page, three-volume report into the death of a little guy named Zachary Andrew Turner, who was 13 months old when his mommy dearest, one Shirley Turner, drugged him, tied him to her chest and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean, where they both drowned.

Dr. Turner was no ordinary mother. A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, she was a medical doctor, cute and tiny and clever, and she was also facing a murder charge in the States, where she was accused of shooting to death her former boyfriend and Zachary's father, a young man of 28 named Andrew David Bagby, also a doctor, who had just ended their relationship.

The report on Zachary's slaying, committed while Dr. Turner was out on bail for the third time, this one pending an appeal of her extradition order, is an astonishing document.

Written by Winnipeg forensic pathologist Peter Markesteyn, it lays bare in minute detail what he calls "a chronicle of unpalatable truths" and is best summed up by Dr. Markesteyn's opening line: "Zachary was in the care of his mother when he should not have been."

Well, yes.

One might have thought, given the enormous publicity (international, national and local to the Rock) that accompanied Dr. Turner's flight from the States and piles of easily available information that existed about her suicidal ideations, threatening and stalking of former boyfriends and routine dumping of her other three children for much of their lives upon ex-husbands -- not to mention the murder charge hanging over her head, poor lamb -- that the authorities in Newfoundland would have made a few inquiries.

But really, they did not.

As Dr. Markesteyn proves -- not shows but proves -- Dr. Turner basically became her own case manager at the local children's aid, so successfully that whenever she called, always wanting something (a new subsidized apartment, a crib, a breast pump), the workers, ostensibly much overextended by caseloads they later said were onerous, nonetheless phoned her back in a flash. No one in authority but for a police constable who predicted what ultimately happened and was ignored gave any thought to the murder case against her: How, someone actually asked, would that have anything to do with her parenting ability?

The poor schmoes she bedded, married, dated, harassed or was impregnated by (she was, one doctor who had supervised her as a resident later said, probably a psychopath) all conducted themselves like the splendid troopers they were.

She got custody and support orders against the husbands, then dumped the young 'uns on them anyway, usually for years at a stretch; they kept faithfully paying support.

When at one point it became clear to her that the children's aid wouldn't get involved in simple custody disputes, she conveniently made an allegation of assault by one of the ex-husbands (who had, as it happened, raised their daughter successfully to a blossoming, high-achieving adolescent), the agency passed on the complaint to the RCMP. But when Doc Turner admitted slapping one of her daughters (confirmed by the daughter), the worker dismissed the complaint (after all, mom had 'fessed up and she was stressed) and took no action.

Zero tolerance against physical discipline was the agency policy, Dr. Markesteyn notes -- but only for men accused of doing it, not so much for women.

Even Mr. Bagby's parents, who reasonably might have been expected to harbour just a titch of fury for Dr. Turner, nonetheless rallied around to help with Zachary, and were the most wonderful, loving grandparents, even moving from California to Newfoundland to care for the little boy on the infrequent cruel occasions when his mother was briefly put in prison to await one or another proceeding.

It is crystal clear that the central failure in Zachary's story is the children's aid, and it is a familiar failure, one repeated in other cases across Canada, most notoriously in Ontario and British Columbia perhaps, but everywhere: Workers considered the mom their client, not the child, and when in doubt, they "supported" her every which way. They gave her hugs.

As for Ms. Campione, she may have been depressed, she may have been abused, she may have felt abandoned, she may have been mentally ill. She may need help, punishment, a good lawyer, money. But a hug? My gender has had enough hugs.