The unlicensed daycare operator who cared for a toddler who drowned in 2010 has not owned a daycare since the death, she told a coroner's inquest, and she said the toddler's mother visited her home later that year.
Jeremie Audette, 2, drowned on July 28, 2010 after he fell into an above-ground pool while his unlicensed daycare provider visited the east Ottawa home of Wendy Lapierre.
Cynthia MacLellan, Audette's caregiver at the time of the drowning, told the inquest Wednesday she brought her daycare children to Lapierre's home where a group of five private, unlicensed daycare groups were meeting for a "play date."
Later, Renée Piché, a licensing manager with the Ministry of Education, testified the gathering included 31 children either inside the home or in the backyard with five adults.
The number of children in the home led to a charge against Lapierre under the Ontario Day Nurseries Act. Daycare providers must have a licence if there are more than five children inside a home, which is categorized as a "day nursery" or a "private home daycare agency."
When pushed by Crown Attorney Vivian-Lee Stewart, Lapierre and MacLellan said they thought the supervision was adequate.
Children found drowned toddler first
MacLellan said she last saw Audette two to three minutes before the drowning. She then said she was putting a bathing suit on one boy when Audette was found in the above-ground pool owned by Lapierre.
Lapierre said she saw Audette alive for the last time while he was playing on the slide of a small wading pool. But then minutes later, Lapierre said her daughter yelled out saying Audette was in the large pool.
Lapierre and MacLellan each described to the court how they performed CPR on the toddler until firefighters arrived, but it is unclear who is telling the truth. Both had CPR and first aid certification.
After that, paramedics tried to revive the toddler, who had no vital signs when they arrived at the home in the area of Innes and Tenth Line roads in Orleans. Audette was rushed to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario where he was pronounced dead.
Lapierre told the inquest she did everything to make her backyard safe, but she also admitted the latch on the pool's gate was not working properly. She said she has "no idea" how Audette managed to fall into the pool and she has often asked herself that question since the death.
Jérémie Audette's death helped lead to a change in an Ottawa bylaw on pool enclosures. Now, pool enclosure gates must be locked (and not just lockable) when the pool is not in use or in the event the gate leads to a public place, when the gate itself is not in use.
Lapierre continues to operate an unlicensed daycare at her home, she said, but she does not host any play dates nor does she allow the children to play in the backyard. MacLellan said she has not run a daycare since the drowning.
The two daycare operators were also asked why they chose to operate unlicensed versus licensed daycares. They agreed they could be better off financially with an unlicensed operation compared to a licensed operation.
Mother of drowned toddler visited daycare operator
MacLellan told the inquest Audette's mother, Melanie Audette, showed up at her home on Christmas Eve 2010. MacLellan said the woman told her, "Have a nice Christmas. I was just down at the cemetery."
Melanie and Alain Audette, who now have two young children, were in attendance Wednesday.
The inquest is focused on two areas: the safety of children in unlicensed daycares who go on outings and how to improve safety for children using backyard pools.
It is examining the circumstances surrounding Audette’s death and it might also make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
The inquest is expected to last 15 days and to hear from 23 witnesses including the daycare operators, first responders who were called to the drowning and childcare experts.