Calgary

Alex Radita 'sentenced' to death, says social worker of B.C. judge's decision to return boy to parents

The judge who gave a diabetic boy back to his parents a decade before they would be accused of his murder "sentenced Alex to death," says a social worker who became so traumatized after the decision that she now suffers PTSD. Alex Radita's parents are in the middle of a first-degree murder trial.

Former social worker who dealt with Radita family now suffers PTSD

This photo of Alex Radita was taken at his 15th birthday party about three months before his death. He was already showing signs of emaciation. His parents are on trial in Calgary for first-degree murder. (Court exhibit)

The judge who gave a diabetic boy back to his parents a decade before they would be accused of his murder "sentenced Alex to death," says a social worker who became so traumatized after the decision that she now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patricia MacDonald spoke to CBC News days after she testified at the Emil and Rodica Radita first-degree murder trial in Calgary.

The parents were charged after Alex's emaciated body was found inside the family's Calgary home in 2013. The 15-year-old weighed 37 pounds, and died of starvation and neglect, complications from untreated diabetes.

MacDonald fought against Alex Radita being returned to his parents in 2004 after he was seized by social services the year before. The then five-year-old boy had been taken to hospital, emaciated from untreated diabetes and so close to death that one doctor testified Alex would have had just hours to live if he didn't receive treatment. 

"I had to hold on to the bench in front of me and I just said under my breath, 'He's just sentenced Alex to death,'" said MacDonald, after she learned B.C. Judge J.G. Cohen decided to return Alex to his parents.

Patricia MacDonald was a social worker involved with the Radita family in 2003/2004 and tried to keep Alex away from his parents. (Supplied)

MacDonald has been off work for two years. She's never spoken publicly about Alex. Now, she wants the public to know that he had people in his life who were trying to protect him.

"We, including myself tried our very hardest to protect Alex, to keep him alive," said MacDonald. "I think for us — the ministry — we were failed by the court system."

MacDonald said that most of the time, the ministry and the parents worked together on a game plan to get children back with their families in a safe environment, but she did not feel Alex would survive with the Raditas.

"I had never come across, in my whole career, parents that were so difficult, so resistant, so angry, hostile as the Raditas," said MacDonald.

"How did he not get it?"

MacDonald said she wondered about Cohen's decision. 

"It's astounding ... how could he have made that order given all of that evidence?"

'Judges speak once'

By the time Alex was taken from his parents in 2003, there was evidence the diabetic boy had gone, at times, years without seeing a doctor. One of the physicians who treated the five-year-old when he arrived at hospital testified last week and became visibly emotional when looking at photos of the emaciated boy.

The Raditas had a long history of denying Alex's condition and refusing to properly treat it, according to evidence presented at the murder trial.

"They had no intention of caring for his diabetes, even though they knew how," said MacDonald.

"The mother was very capable, she was very intelligent, she was able to change the insulin according to his blood sugar levels so really there was no reason for Alex to have deteriorated into that condition."

But in his written decision to return Alex, Cohen often laid blame on MacDonald who, in a telephone interview from her home in B.C., said she felt under attack by the provincial court judge at the 2004 hearing.

"There had been a misunderstanding of the facts by the social worker," wrote Cohen. "This was not a case of denial of diagnosis and withdrawal of treatment, rather it was a case of acceptance of the diagnosis but with poor management of its complex treatment regime."

Cohen said that Alex was now enrolled in school and any deterioration would be "visible to the outside world."

"[Alex] is now a full-time student under the watchful eye of a teacher each and everyday of the school week," he wrote.

But shortly after Alex was returned to his parents, he stopped going to school. And when the doctor the Raditas had agreed could treat Alex moved offices in 2008, they stopped showing up for appointments.

By 2009, the family had moved to Alberta, where Alex was never taken to see a doctor, according to evidence at the trial. 

Alex Radita, 15, weighed less than 40 lbs when he died. His parents, Emil and Rodica, are accused of refusing to treat his diabetes and neglecting the child. (Facebook/CBC)

CBC News reached out to Cohen for a comment, but the Provincial Court of British Columbia said in a brief statement it was "unable to assist" with the request.

"Judges speak once through their reasons for judgment, and it would be inappropriate for the judges themselves to subsequently comment or attempt to explain what they meant," reads the statement.

"Such a practice would lead to uncertainty in the law and would defeat the goal of finality in litigation."

'Failed by the court system'

In most murder trials, victims' family members come to court to bear witness to the process. Most say they are there to honour their loved ones. 

In Alex's case, his parents are both in the prisoners' box, none of his seven siblings have shown up — it is possible they could be called as witnesses and would therefore be excluded from the courtroom — and he never attended school after the year he spent in foster care, so likely did not have any friends.

A handful of people, though, have grieved publicly for Alex — either in the witness box or in interviews outside the courtroom.

But most are people who should never have been in the boy's life to begin with: a police officer, a doctor who specialized in malnutrition, and a social worker, MacDonald.

'Alex Alert'

The murder trial is in its fourth week but is expected to go longer than expected, so a continuation date will likely be set for sometime in the fall of 2016.

If any good can come from Alex's death, it would be in the form of systemic change that could offer protections to other vulnerable children that Alex wasn't afforded, says MacDonald.

Something like an Amber Alert, MacDonald proposes an "Alex Alert" that could be used when families under investigation by social services flee a jurisdiction.

"The Raditas aren't the first family I've had do that," said MacDonald.

"They just pick up and leave, they'll leave in the middle of the night ... and then you go around to the house and they're gone. And we have no way of tracking where they have gone."

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