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Alberta officials deny wrongdoing after toddler’s death wrongly deemed a homicide

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Thu, 04/26/2012 - 17:25

CALGARY — Provincial officials are denying any wrongdoing in a case involving a toddler who was put into foster care for nearly two years following an autopsy that wrongly classified his stepbrother’s accidental death as a homicide.

The child’s family is suing the former Calgary pathologist who performed the autopsy, Dr. Michael Belenky, along with Alberta justice and child welfare officials.

One of the main allegations in the family’s $2-million suit is that Belenky’s erroneous finding damaged the family’s reputation and the resulting suspicion over the boy’s death in 2009 led to authorities placing his stepbrother in foster care for nearly two years.

But in a statement of defence filed in Court of Queen’s Bench, the defendants are seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The defendants counter that officials had reasonable grounds to apprehend the stepbrother, who is now five years old.

“The apprehension of (the stepbrother) was at all times in accordance with and pursuant to orders properly granted by a court of competent jurisdiction,” reads the defence.

“All interventions with regard to (the stepbrother) were made in his best interests and for no other purpose.”

Child welfare legislation prevents publishing the name of the boy or the four plaintiffs — his stepbrother, his father and his paternal grandparents.

The boy who died was two years old when he suffered a fatal head injury while being looked after by his stepfather at their Calgary home on April 1, 2009. He died in hospital three days later.

Suspicions over the circumstances of the toddler’s death prompted child welfare workers to apprehend the stepbrother and place him in foster care. The stepbrother’s paternal grandparents received temporary guardianship and the boy went to live with them in B.C. in June 2010.

However, child welfare authorities apprehended the stepbrother again a month later and put him back in foster care. The family alleges the boy was put back into foster care because they would not agree to cut him off from his father.

But the statement of defence alleges the grandparents “were unable to comply” with the terms of the custody arrangement specified by authorities.

A Calgary homicide detective first raised concerns about the case in 2010 after seeing the term “nonaccidental” used in a report written by Belenky, who was assistant chief medical examiner at the time.

The investigator requested a meeting with Belenky in August 2010 to discuss the terminology.

Toward the end of January 2011, the detective wanted further clarification about the report, but Belenky had left the medical examiner’s office earlier that month.

Documents obtained by the Calgary Herald show Alberta Justice terminated Belenky’s three-year contract on Jan. 11, several months before it was due to expire. In Belenky’s absence, another medical examiner looked at the case for homicide investigators and was concerned about the original findings.

On Jan. 31, Alberta Justice announced a review of all criminal files handled by Belenky.

Authorities overturned Belenky’s original finding in the toddler’s death and deemed it accidental two months later, concluding the boy probably suffered the fatal head injury falling from a piece of furniture.

Authorities returned the stepbrother to his family in March 2011.

The Herald has been unable to reach Belenky for comment regarding the lawsuit’s claims, which are unproven in court.

Postmedia News