Alex Radita fell through the cracks of cross-border child welfare, advocate says
WARNING: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers
British Columbia's child advocate says the death of a diabetic teen in Alberta demonstrates gaping cracks in interprovincial child welfare that put kids at risk.
When we have a kid like this, shouldn't there be an Amber Alert?-Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
"This falls into the category I see frequently of kids who need medical support and without it they can have a very severe outcome. This boy not only died, but apparently suffered in the period before his death," said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. "For these kids we need a proper, national child-welfare system."
Turpel-Lafond has been closely watching the trial of Emil and Rodica Radita, who have pleaded not guilty in the death of their 15-year-old son Alexandru. The teen died in Calgary in 2013 from complications due to untreated diabetes and starvation. He weighed less than 37 pounds at the time of his death.
Dr. Michael Seear, an expert in malnutrition and its effects on the human body, testified at the first-degree murder trial of the parents in Calgary. They are accused in the neglect and starvation death of their 15-year-old son.
Seear treated Alex when he was hospitalized while living in British Columbia. The first time was in 2000 when the boy was diagnosed with diabetes and again in 2003 when he nearly died of complications from untreated diabetes.
Alex hospitalized in B.C.
"We tiptoed around this boy … I thought there was a fair chance he would die," said Seear of Alex's 2003 hospital stay.
Witnesses testified that the Raditas refused to accept their son had diabetes when he was diagnosed in B.C. in 2000. He was hospitalized twice suffering from severe malnutrition. The second time, he was placed in foster care, before eventually being returned to his parents.
We tiptoed around this boy.- Dr Michael Seear
Child-welfare officials were watching the Raditas, but lost track when the family moved to Alberta in 2008.
"Suddenly there's no more contact — they're gone. What happened? What do you do? In Canada we don't have an alert system," said Turpel-Lafond.
"When we have a kid like this, shouldn't there be an Amber Alert? Shouldn't there be a system nationally with a strong information system that talks to each?"
Crucial provinces share information: advocate
Since the Radita case, Canada's provinces and territories — with the exception of Quebec — have adopted an updated version of a protocol for children, youth and families moving between jurisdictions.
It authorizes the sharing of confidential information without a person's consent to ensure the safety and well-being of a child.
"It's essentially a piece of paper and a gentleman's agreement," said Turpel-Lafond. "It's just like we're going to fax something to your office. Hopefully someone sees it, but these child-welfare offices are frequently overworked, understaffed.
"They have so many cases and to ask for a courtesy supervision visit from another province — probably that goes to the bottom of their pile."
Investigators haunted by case
There needs to be a system like the Canadian Police Information Centre, which allows law enforcement agencies to get access to information on a number of matters, she suggested.
Charlene Beck, a retired RCMP officer from B.C. who dealt with the Radita case in 2003, told reporters last week after her testimony that she's haunted by what happened to Alexandru.
"Angry that he wasn't monitored. Angry that we have a system in Canada that doesn't allow cross-provincial information sharing at the touch of a button with the technology we have today. It's insane," she said outside court.
'He should never have died'
"There's no way he should have been able to slip through the system like that. There's no excuse for it. He should never have died."
Turpel-Lafond, who served previously as a provincial court judge in Saskatchewan, believes the problem of at-risk children being moved from province to province to evade child welfare is worse than most Canadians realize.
"We have people who are just on the lam. They flee child welfare in one province and then go to another province to make a fresh start. Frequently the child-welfare system in the province that loses them just closes the file, which is what happened with the young boy here."
With files from CBC's Meghan Grant