Toronto

Eva Ravikovich's parents get OK to sue Ontario over daughter's daycare death

An Ontario judge says the provincial government must face trial in a lawsuit filed by the family of a two-year-old girl who died in an unlicensed daycare three years ago.

They claim education ministry had 4 complaints that facility was overcrowded

Eva Ravikovich died at a unlicensed daycare three years ago. Her parents learned today that they can sue the Ontario government over the death. (Facebook)

An Ontario judge says the provincial government must face trial in a lawsuit filed by the family of a two-year-old girl who died in an unlicensed daycare three years ago.

Eva Ravikovich's parents launched a $3.5-million lawsuit against the Ministry of Education and the owners and operators of the daycare in Vaughan, Ont.

They allege — in claims that have yet to be tested in court — that the ministry took no steps to ensure Eva's safety despite having received four complaints that claimed the daycare was overcrowded.

Court documents show the ministry asked to be removed as a defendant, arguing it had no duty of care toward Eva's family and any enforcement of unlicensed daycares is discretionary.

The ministry also said Eva's death was not a "reasonably foreseeable" consequence of its actions.

But Judge Mary Vallee said there are "genuine legal and factual uncertainties" that can't be answered without proceeding to trial.

"Even if the ministry is not required to take enforcement steps, it may be that the ministry ought to have reported the matter to the local health unit, which is empowered to take investigative steps," she wrote in her decision.

"Interestingly, after Eva's death, the ministry did obtain a search warrant and entered the daycare. Apparently, it found 29 children and 14 dogs. The ministry then obtained an injunction to shut down the daycare. This suggests the ministry was capable of taking action," she said.

"In my view, the plaintiffs may be able to successfully establish proximity. It is not plain, obvious and beyond a reasonable doubt at this stage that the plaintiffs' claim cannot succeed."

'Lax' enforcement

It's estimated that about 20 per cent of Canadian children do not have access to a licensed daycare, and problems within unlicensed facilities have been reported across the country. 

A 2013 Marketplace investigation conducted in Toronto and Vancouver found widespread negligence among some providers — including employees who had no relevant qualifications and homes lacking any child safety features. 

The most commonly reported complaint was that unlicensed daycares were caring for too many children at once. Unlicensed providers in Ontario, for example, can legally care for no more than five children under the age of 10, in addition to their own children.

But because home day cares are largely unregulated, it's often up to the parents to ensure the environment is safe and the staff properly trained.

There were 14 children and several dogs in the home where Eva died, for example. 

But Eva's case was certainly not the first time unlicensed daycares have come under scrutiny in Ontario and other provinces. In February last year, the Ontario Education Ministry revealed that a four-month-old boy died at a facility in northwest Toronto. The cause of death was never revealed. 

The Ontario ombudsman released a report in 2014 that found that the "lax" rules governing unlicensed daycares are "barely enforced" by the province, adding that Eva's death was "a bit like a canary in a coal mine" for larger problems facing home daycare services. 

Each year the ministry gets hundreds of complaints about unlicensed facilities, about 25 per cent of which are substantiated upon investigation, the report revealed. 

'Justice' for Eva

Eva's parents, Ekaterina Evtropova and Vycheslav Ravikovich, are "pleased with the result and look forward to finding justice for their little girl," their lawyer, Patrick Brown, said in an email.

The family alleges the ministry failed to properly inspect, investigate and regulate the daycare and ought to have known it was being operated illegally.

It also claims the daycare was an unsafe environment and the operators failed to both monitor children for potential health issues and respond properly to an emergency situation.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

With files from CBC News

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