P.E.I. child advocate to complete review after boy's death ruled accidental

The P.E.I. child and youth advocate says he can complete a review into the death of two-year-old Knox Beairsto-Whitlock now the Summerside boy's death has been ruled an accident.

2-year-old Summerside child Knox Beairsto-Whitlock died in August of 2020

Knox Beairsto-Whitlock died in August of 2020, with Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner determining that his death was due to a head injury suffered accidentally. (Facebook)

The P.E.I. child and youth advocate can now complete a review into the death of two-year-old Knox Beairsto-Whitlock, since the Nova Scotia Chief Medical Examiner Service has declared it accidental.

A news release Thursday morning said there will be no criminal charges in the Summerside boy's death, citing the opinion of the medical examiner and consultation with the Crown prosecutor's office following a police investigation.

That frees up P.E.I. child and youth advocate Marvin Bernstein to complete a review his office had already begun.

Bernstein told CBC News that his office was restricted in how much it could look into while the police investigation was ongoing. Now that it is closed, he'll be able to access records he couldn't before.

"We're going to be now moving forward, certainly communicating to reviewable services and any other public bodies that haven't yet produced records in this case, that they're free to provide us with those records so that we can then continue to examine all these different pieces of activity."

He said the purpose of the review is not to find criminal culpability.

Marvin Bernstein was sworn in as P.E.I.'s first Child and Youth Advocate in July 2020. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

"We're not focused on finding legal responsibility or pointing fingers," he said.

"Our focus is really one of prevention. So how can we move forward if we move into the investigation phase, and advance recommendations and develop strategies to prevent these kinds of child deaths and serious injuries from occurring in the future?"

Investigation possible

Once the review is complete, Bernstein will decide whether this case meets the criteria for a formal investigation.

He will then speak publicly about whether his office is moving into the investigation phase.

If a formal investigation is initiated, Bernstein has "heightened" powers both to interview parties and to compel witnesses to attend and provide testimony.

Bernstein cautioned that an investigation isn't like a public inquest; it is a confidential process. That's why he can't speak about specifics of the Knox Beairsto-Whitlock case.

This photo of Knox Beairsto-Whitlock was posted by organizers of a vigil planned for this weekend to mark the first anniversary of the Summerside boy's death. (Facebook)

In August of last year, Summerside Police were notified that Knox was in a Halifax hospital with life-threatening injuries that might be "not natural," police said in a news release Tuesday.

The boy died a few days afterward, with Nova Scotia chief medical examiner Dr. Matthew Bowes eventually concluding in a July 12 report that the medical cause was blunt force trauma to the head, with the manner of death considered accidental.   

An investigation by Bernstein's office would look into whether there was any lack of communication between government departments or public bodies or gaps in services that may have contributed to the death. 

If those are found, Bernstein would put forward "positive, purposeful recommendations that may prevent similar child deaths or serious injuries in the future."

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With files from Brittany Spencer