Ottawa police failed boy in torture case, victims' advocate says

A victims' advocate says Ottawa police failed an abused boy when they returned him to his home to face more torture at the hands of his father, an RCMP officer, and stepmother. A police services board member plans to ask how that happened.

'Horrified' police board member plans to ask why officers returned boy to abusive parents

Police services board member Sandy Smallwood says, as a member of the public, he wants 'a fuller explanation' of why officers returned a boy who had accused his father, an RCMP officer, of mistreating him. (George-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC)

A community member of Ottawa's Police Services Board wants to know why officers returned a nine-year-old boy to his home after he accused his father, an RCMP officer, of starving and abusing him.

The incident in November 2011 occurred more than a year before his father and stepmother were charged with severe abuse that police described as "the worst they'd ever seen." They cannot be named to protect the boy's identity.

Sandy Smallwood says after following the trial and verdict he can't believe what the boy, who was 11 when his parents were arrested in February 2013, endured. 

"I was horrified," Smallwood said. "This is sickening and it's just a horrible thing to happen in this city."

In November, the boy's father was found guilty of aggravated assault, sexual assault causing bodily harm, forcible confinement and failing to provide the necessaries of life. The boy's stepmother was found guilty of assault with a weapon and failing to provide the necessaries of life.

But now some, like Smallwood, have questions about how the case was handled.

An Ottawa woman who said the boy came to her door on a cold day in November 2011 says she still struggles with feelings of guilt that she could have done more to protect him and remains angry with police for sending him back to them to endure months of gruesome torture and neglect.

She said the boy told her his father forced him to do hundreds of push-ups as punishment for not doing his homework and suspected lying. The boy said his father denied him food when he didn't complete the push-ups and added he often went hungry.

The woman, who can't be named in order to protect the boy's identity, says the boy was emaciated and his stomach and forearms were covered in what looked like red rug burns. She added he also had red ligature marks on his wrists.  

She called police to her home but they returned the boy to his parents. An officer returned a short time later to tell her the boy and his father had a "little argument" but the child was living in a "happy, healthy home with lots of food."

"I will be haunted by this and I am culpable as well," she told CBC News. "I didn't follow up and I trusted the police, I trusted the system, but he still had to endure all those horrors."

Ottawa police defend November 2011 response

Ottawa police declined an interview but Supt. Don Sweet issued a statement in response to how officers handled the incident.

"It is the opinion of the Ottawa Police Service that the information, as presented in 2011, was investigated appropriately."

But for Smallwood, many questions remain about how the two officers who went to the woman's house dealt with the boys allegations.

"I would like as a member of the public, I would like a fuller explanation so that I can understand what seems to have gone wrong," Smallwood said. 

He said he's not going to jump to conclusions about what the officers did or didn't do that day but he will be asking questions about the incident at the next Police Services Board meeting. 

"For instance, why the Children's Aid wasn't called," he said. "I think we have to make sure we do everything possible to make sure this doesn't happen again."

'Accountability was missed in this case'

Smallwood isn't the only one looking for more answers about how police dealt with the boy's initial complaints that he was being abused.

Melissa Heimerl, executive director of Ottawa Victim Services, said police officers failed to properly protect the boy from what turned out to be abusive parents.  

Heimerl, whose agency counsels and advocates for victims of violent crime, said she followed the trial and its outcome closely. 

"That is just completely unacceptable — front-line officers need more training when it comes to domestic violence," Heirmerl said. "It sounds like a proper risk assessment of that boy's safety wasn't done — the accountability was missed in this case."

Heirmerl added that police officers are obliged to call Children's Aid if there is any suggestion a child might be abused.

The Crown attorney in the trial told CBC News the child protection agency was not called to investigate this incident.  

CBC News requested an interview with Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau, but was told he wasn't available Tuesday or Wednesday.