Dad of drowned toddler criticizes daycare pools

A coroner's inquest into the 2010 drowning of an Ottawa toddler heard the boy's father emotionally describe the morning of his son's death, as well as blame pools for endangering the safety of children at unlicensed private daycares.

Alain Audette describes panicked phone call with daycare provider after drowning

Jeremie Audette was last seen alive in the wading pool above before he drowned in the above-ground pool. (CBC)

The father of an Ottawa toddler who drowned while attending an unlicensed daycare says daycares should not have pools, as the coroner's inquest into his son's death continues.

Jeremie Audette, 2, drowned on July 28, 2010 after he fell into an above-ground pool while his unlicensed daycare provider, Cynthia MacLellan, visited the Orleans home of fellow unlicensed daycare operator, Wendy Lapierre.

On Thursday, Alain Audette told the inquest he did not know MacLellan was taking her daycare children, including his son, to another home near the area of Tenth Line and Innes roads for a "play date."

Jeremie Audette's death helped spark a provincial investigation into drownings in Ontario. (CBC)

When asked by Crown Attorney Vivian-Lee Stewart, Audette fought off tears as he described a voicemail he received from MacLellan the morning of his son's death, which said Jérémie "jumped in the big pool" and to call her back.

He told the inquest he ran outside and called MacLellan and he asked, "Is he dead?" But she would not answer him, Audette told the inquest, and he then called his wife saying he thought Jérémie was dead.

Audette said he drove to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, while his wife caught a ride there. The father said he saw his son taken off the ambulance before his wife arrived. The toddler was pronounced dead at CHEO later that day.

Audette also said he did not know there were going to be 31 children at the home with five adults, which the Ministry of Education confirmed Wednesday.

Limited oversight of unlicensed daycares

Audette does not want pools at unlicensed daycares and he recommended these daycares should have more supervision for the ratio of children to adults on outings.

The number of children in the home led to a charge against Lapierre under the Ontario Day Nurseries Act. An unlicenced home daycare provider can never have more than five children in her home, in addition to their own children. Licensed home daycare providers can only have five children, including their own children, in the home.

Jill Vienneau, a director of early learning and child care policy at the Ministry of Education, said the Ontario Day Nurseries Act covers a host of other requirements for licensed day cares, but said the Act is silent on unlicensed day cares save for the limitation on the number of children.

The ministry cannot oversee anything done inside an unlicensed home daycare, Vienneau told the inquest.

Alain Audette, father of toddler Jérémie Audette who drowned in 2010, testified Thursday in the inquest's fourth day. (CBC)

Earlier in the day, Kim Hiscott, the executive director of Andrew Fleck Child Care Services, said none of its 120 to 130 daycares in eastern Ontario have pools.

A manager with the City of Ottawa also testified none of its 88 licensed daycares have pools.

That only became the case after a licensing official with the Ministry of Education released a memo following Audette's drowning and the coroner's report on drowning deaths. The memo informed licensed day care providers in Eastern Ontario they could no longer operate if they had pools.

Audette said Thursday he and his wife, Melanie, knew the difference between licensed and unlicensed daycares when they chose to put Jérémie in unlicensed care. The problem, he told the inquest, was licensed care centres in Ottawa were full.

Audette said the couple planned to move their son to a new unlicensed daycare because they felt MacLellan had too many outings.

Andrew Fleck, which also runs Ottawa's centralized waiting list for daycare spots, struggles to recruit people for licensed centres because licensed centres must pay between $6 and $12 a day per child in administration fees and must also submit to inspections, Hiscott told the inquest.

Licensed daycares hard to find, few open spots

Many operators also choose to run unlicensed daycares because they could be better off financially with an unlicensed operation compared to a licensed operation, according to the testimony of MacLellan and Lapierre on Wednesday.

Unlicensed daycares are also popular because it is easier for parents to find care for their children. The current waiting list in Ottawa includes 12,200 children and the wait can be up to three years to find supervision at a licensed daycare, Hiscott told the inquest.

Also on Thursday, the father of another boy cared for by MacLellan the day of the toddler's drowning said he sought licensed care after the drowning.

MacLellan also quit caring for children after the death, she told the inquest Wednesday.

The ministry said child-care regulations are going to be updated for the first time in 30 years and the jury's recommendations at the inquest could have an impact.