Katelynn Sampson inquest to begin, will look at Children's Aid Society, TDSB
'There were alarm bells ringing... but no one was responding,' Sampson family lawyer
More than seven years after police found Katelynn Sampson's broken body inside her guardians' Toronto home, a coroner's inquest will open Monday to look at whether the public agencies involved could have done more to protect the seven-year-old.
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Katelynn had been living with Donna Irving and Warren Johnson for about a year when she was found in their Parkdale apartment on Aug. 3, 2008, after they called 911 to say she had started to choke and stopped breathing.
In fact, the pair inflicted more than 70 injuries on the little girl over a course of months, according to her autopsy. She had broken bones, lacerations and internal injuries. It would have painful for her to talk, to swallow and to move.
Irving and Johnson received life sentences for Katelynn's murder in 2012.
There were other agencies involved near the end of Katelynn's life, however, including the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services and the Toronto District School Board — and their lack of intervention drew heavy criticism from the trial judge in 2012, a lawyer for Katelynn's mother told CBC News in a recent interview.
"There were alarm bells ringing, as he put it, but no one was responding," Suzan Fraser said. "What he said was that if they had, we might not be here right now."
That's what the inquest will explore. Five weeks have been set aside for the hearing, which will be before a jury, and is expected to involve about 30 witnesses.
'[Her mother] really doesn't believe that Katelynn is at peace right now. She really hopes that at the end of this … she will finally be at rest.'- Suzan Fraser, Bernice Sampson's lawyer
Fraser said she's most interested to hear from staff at the Children's Aid Society. Irving and Johnson had called them while Katelynn was in their care to say they no longer wanted her.
The Canadian Press reported that the society transferred that call to Native Child and Family Services, but it took a caseworker more than two weeks to contact Irving.
Katelynn also missed the last two months of elementary school in 2008. It's unclear what steps, if any, board staff took to see why that was.
The little girl first began living with Irving and Johnson in 2007. Her mother, Bernice Sampson, made the arrangement so that she could get clean after relapsing into crack addiction.
Court documents obtained by CBC News show the custody arrangement became formalized by the court in June 2008, despite the fact that Irving had several criminal convictions.
The court's apparent lack of scrutiny of the couple later prompted the province to require mandatory criminal background checks for anyone applying for child custody.
While the hearing may be focused on improving the social safety net for vulnerable children, it will also be a form of catharsis for Katelynn's mother, Fraser told CBC News.
"She really doesn't believe that Katelynn is at peace right now," Fraser said. "She really hopes that at the end of this… she will finally be at rest.
"And, hopefully, if the jury can keep Katelynn in their heart, for her to protect other children, then we can accomplish something at this inquest."