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Frustrated with the police investigation into Nathaniel’s death, his mother turned detective. What she found raised questions about the official probe

Jun 16, 2021 5:00:00 AM

poster 4 frustrated with the police investigation into nathaniels death his mother turned detective what she found raised questions about the official probe 16 06 2021 investigations news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Part four of a five-part series. Recap of the story so far: Two weeks after Nathaniel dies, his parents are interrogated by the Ontario Provincial Police. Information surfaces about a “door bump” the night before Nathaniel is rushed to hospital. Frustrated McLellan family members wonder if police have tunnel vision in the investigation.

I am sitting across a kitchen table from Rose-Anne and Kent McLellan in Parkhill, a rural community near London, Ont. Through a window I see rows of green cornstalks stretching to the horizon, brown tassels shimmering in noonday heat. Wind turbines turning in the fields beyond look like some advancing mechanical army. Between us, under a clear plastic tablecloth, are pencil crayon memories drawn by Nathaniel’s three older brothers, messages scrawled beside each picture.

“I love you Nate.”

“I miss you Nate.”

“Nate was a good brother.”

Rose-Anne’s hands tap the table hard with each point she makes. My recorder jumps with each tap. Kent makes his comments softly, often phrased as questions.

In the five years since Nathaniel died, his parents have battled police secrecy, made some astounding discoveries, and gone down more than a few rabbit holes. They remain on a quest for answers. Who was responsible for their son’s death? And the bigger issue, which has wide ramifications in a province with a checkered past investigating child deaths: Did the Ontario Provincial Police, the Strathroy-Caradoc police, numerous doctors, the children’s aid society, the provincial coroner, and other agencies properly investigate this young boy’s death?

Nathaniel’s case remains open and unsolved, with the OPP saying it is still reviewing a medical opinion it obtained in the summer of 2020 from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The medical report was requested by the OPP two years previous.

We start with the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, when the happy routine of the McLellan family’s world blew up. What follows is an account of that day and the days that followed, aided by interviews I conducted; police interviews contained in search warrant documents obtained following a Toronto Star court challenge; medical and coroner reports; and a series of secretly recorded conversations the parents had with doctors who handled their son’s case, both in life and in death.

That Tuesday, the family was up by 7. Kent, Rose-Anne and their four boys, Gabe, Luke, Noah and Nathaniel. Kent was on oatmeal duty, stirring a big pot on the stove. In his high chair in the kitchen, Nathaniel giggled and munched on dry Cheerios while he waited for breakfast. “Nate ate all of his oatmeal and the majority of mine,” Kent recalls. Nathaniel had a tiny red mark in the centre of his forehead from being bumped by a door the night before. Other than that, he was his normal smiley self.

Kent was out the door first, climbing into his white Kia Soul work van, dusty from country roads. He runs a heating and air conditioning business and had a busy day of calls, including a furnace installation in Strathroy, the town where Rose-Anne taught school. Gabe, Luke and Noah hustled to catch their school bus, backpacks and lunch bags bouncing as they ran down the gravel road. Nathaniel stood at the front window and waved goodbye to his big brothers, 6, 8 and 10 years old. The next time the older boys would see him he would be in a hospital room in London, connected to life-support tubes and wires.

After one last wave goodbye, Nathaniel picked up one of Rose-Anne’s shoes and tore around the house laughing. He had been an early walker. Often he scampered up onto a kitchen chair with an eye to climbing onto the table — the whole family had to be on constant alert. The night before, Rose-Anne gave the school-aged boys haircuts — it was picture day Tuesday — and Nathaniel scooped up the cut hair and tossed it in the air, laughing.

In a mirror, Rose-Anne did her best to tame her own mounds of dark curls, gave Nathaniel’s face one last wipe, grabbed his diaper bag and buckled him into the car seat in her white Yukon for the 30-minute drive to Strathroy. She was running a bit late. At university she’d been a top student and a varsity track athlete. Her school nickname was “Mighty Mouse,” reflecting high energy in a petite package.

Rose-Anne recalls how she was feeling as she headed off that day.

“I was pumped. I was pregnant. I was happy. My principal was amazing. My class was great. I had never been so happy. I had four kids and I was having a fifth.”

From their first year together, Rose-Anne and Kent wanted five children. Nathaniel had been the fourth. William, the fifth, would be born six months after Nathaniel died.

With both parents working, Rose-Anne had put together a child-care plan. After school for the older boys was easy — grandparents Wayne and Judy up the road were always waiting with snacks and hugs. For Nathaniel, just 15 months, neighbour Kathy Webster took care of him Mondays and Wednesdays, and also cleaned the house and cooked. Fridays, another neighbour stepped in. For Tuesdays and Thursdays, Rose-Anne had recently found a spot with a Strathroy woman named Meggin Van Hoof.

Meggin, 38, ran a daycare out of her home on Head Street, a one-floor, ranch-style home separated from a busy street by a deep front lawn. Previously, Meggin had worked as a teller at a Toronto-Dominion Bank. She has a carpeted playroom in her basement and in the large, fenced backyard, a wooden climbing structure the neighbourhood kids call a “treehouse.” Under Ontario law, Meggin did not need a ministry licence as long as she only provided care for five children. She and her husband, Brian, a truck driver, had two young children of their own, a boy and a girl.

Nathaniel had been in Meggin’s care Tuesdays and Thursdays since the school year started in September — the week when Nathaniel was rushed to hospital was the start of his eighth week with Meggin. It seemed to be going well, though Nathaniel sometimes came home with a diaper rash that was moderate to severe. Rose-Anne and Kent noticed it, and so did Kathy Webster, who looked after Nathaniel on other days.

That Tuesday morning, Rose-Anne dropped Nathaniel and his diaper bag with Meggin at her front door just before 8:30, then headed to her school.

Meggin provided only limited responses to my numerous attempts to question her about the day, including detailed questions sent in writing. There are several civil actions in the London courts — the McLellan family sued both police forces and the Van Hoofs; and the Van Hoofs have sued the McLellan family. The Van Hoofs’ lawyer, Kevin Egan, said “the answers to your various questions will emerge in evidence before the courts.”

What follows is based on notes of an interview of Meggin by Strathroy-Caradoc police Det. Const. Chris Haskett, shortly after the incident. His notes are contained in search warrant requests for Nathaniel’s medical records and other items related to the police investigation, including cellphones and both the McLellan and Van Hoof residences.

According to the police notes, Meggin confirmed that Rose-Anne dropped Nathaniel at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Meggin told the detective Nathaniel was “normal looking” when Rose-Anne dropped him off, though he seemed “a little grouchy.” Some of the children Meggin looked after in the early morning were either school-age or attended a preschool program, and so just before 9 a.m. Meggin gathered them all up, including her own kids, and walked the 450 metres to drop them at the preschool adjacent to North Meadows Elementary School, where Rose-Anne taught. Nathaniel and another boy Meggin was caring for, who was two and a half, rode in the wagon for the short trip, and then Meggin and the two boys retraced their route back to Meggin’s home on Head Street.

There, Meggin said she got “juice and snack and went downstairs to play” with the two little boys. As the morning progressed she said Nathaniel was “showing signs he was very tired” but “wouldn’t go for a nap.” She said she tried to put him down for a nap but he “screamed again” and eventually she settled him on the couch for a “30-45” minute nap.

The police notes of Meggin’s interview read: “Unusual for Nate, usually very happy. Went back out to play room, he was showing signs of being tired, falling asleep standing up. Tried again to put him down for nap, he screamed again, brought him back out to play room.” She said at one point in the morning Nathaniel “kicked and screamed” and threw himself on the floor, behaviour she had never seen. Meggin also said that at some point in the morning, her cat scratched the side of Nathaniel’s face. (Pathology reports show three “abrasions” around Nathaniel’s left ear.) The detective’s notes do not state what time in the morning Nathaniel’s unusual behaviour began. Meggin had care of Nathaniel that day from the drop-off until just before noon.

The Star looked at Meggin’s social media posts for the morning to see if anything else was going on while she was caring for Nathaniel and the other toddler. In addition to the home daycare, Meggin had a small business that sold electronic scent diffuser supplies, and a plastic wrap product that boasts it can help people lose weight.

Meggin had six social media posts on Instagram or Facebook while operating her home daycare that morning, ranging from business-related to silly comments.

7:28 a.m.: She posted an ad asking for three product testers to try “our products.”

8:36 a.m.: She posted an ad for a “diffuser starter bundle” at a cost of $253.

10:12 a.m.: Meggin posted “A poem for mornings: Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Everyone shut up. Coffee.”

10:55 a.m.: Meggin posted an ad for her weight-loss wraps and included a photo of a woman who has used the wrap and claimed to have lost weight.

11:09 a.m.: Meggin responded to a Facebook group discussion about where a friend should have dinner. Her husband, Brian, suggests “The Beef Baron LOL” (at the time it was a London, Ont., strip club and it’s now an antique market) and Meggin replies, “what kind of food do they serve Brian Van Hoof.”

11:10 a.m.: Meggin posted an ad for a “facial cleanser.”

According to Meggin’s statement to police, at 11:30 she got ready to pick up her daughter from the preschool beside North Meadows. Her normal routine would be to make the 450-metre walk to the preschool, pulling Nathaniel and the other toddler in the wagon, and then bring all the children back for lunch.

She told the detective that when it was time to go she was in the basement playroom with the two little boys. The two-and-a-half-year-old walked up the carpeted stairs on his own and she carried Nathaniel. She took them to the garage to put their shoes on and she said at that point Nathaniel collapsed on the landing, slumping to one side as he fell. Meggin stressed to the detective that Nathaniel did not fall down the three steps from the landing to the concrete garage floor. She never got his shoes or coat on.

When she looked down at Nathaniel on the landing, “he was lethargic, out of it, he was breathing, almost like he was sleeping,” she told the detective. She told the detective she “didn’t notice a bruise on his head until after he collapsed.” This is the only mention of a bruise in the notes of Meggin’s interview, and the specific location of the bruise is not mentioned.

Meggin said she called the school and asked to speak to Rose-Anne. The principal got Rose-Anne to come to the phone and she told her “something’s wrong with Nate. He collapsed.” The principal, Scott Askey, told police Meggin’s call came in at 11:50 a.m. and that Meggin’s voice on the phone was “quivering.”

In her statement, Meggin said she told Rose-Anne she was bringing Nathaniel to school and asked if Rose-Anne could meet her halfway. In her statement, Rose-Anne said Meggin told her “he’s fallen asleep and he is acting strange. He’s falling asleep and he’s not making sense. He can’t hold his head up.” Rose-Anne told Meggin she would come and take him to emergency and Meggin said she would start heading in her direction.

Meggin, the other toddler and Nathaniel (who Meggin carried in her arms) headed towards the school and were met halfway by Rose-Anne. In her statement to police, Meggin says it was “probably close to 12” that she met Rose-Anne. Rose-Anne grabbed Nathaniel and rushed her son to hospital, arriving there at about 12:04 p.m.

According to the police notes, Meggin then phoned a woman, Jennifer Waters, a friend from when they both worked at TD Bank. Sometimes Meggin picked up Jennifer’s kids after school. “Nate fell over, he just collapsed,” Meggin told Jennifer, according to Jennifer’s interview with police. Later in the day, Meggin texted Jennifer: “Cops are involved and they will be contacting my parents (of children Meggin looks after) … last I heard he’s in critical condition and my day just got real bad. There’s no way it could have happened here, I was with him all morning and never took my eyes off him.”

I reached out to Meggin several times for this story. I asked her if it was possible that she was busy that Tuesday morning on social media and her attention to the kids had slipped. Or if, perhaps, she had the two toddlers outside that morning and Nathaniel had fallen, perhaps from the wooden climbing structure, cracking his head on a beam or other hard surface below.

Meggin told me “no,” neither was possible. In the Van Hoofs’ reply to civil allegations from Rose-Anne and Kent that she did not properly look after Nathaniel, the Van Hoofs state that “at no time was Nathaniel out of Meggin’s sight.”

In Rose-Anne’s statement to police, she says Meggin told her during a frantic exchange on the street that Meggin had “put Nathaniel outside with the girls” before school. Meggin makes no mention in her statement to police of children playing outside that day. I asked Meggin if, when her cat scratched Nathaniel (Meggin told police “cat scratched Nate on the neck” and doctors noticed these markings in the hospital) that the scratch caused Nathaniel to fall backwards off something, perhaps the climbing structure in the backyard. Meggin said no, nothing happened while she was looking after Nathaniel.

I asked her about these possibilities because two people I interviewed raised concerns about Meggin’s supervision of children. One Strathroy woman said she pulled her child from Meggin’s home daycare over supervision concerns. Theresa Lovett had her son with Meggin and she popped by unannounced early one afternoon. Theresa’s son was inside (Meggin was changing his diaper) but “the rest of the kids were out playing in her front yard. One of them had his second birthday and I was floored that he was outside in the front yard playing by himself with the other kids, who were biking up and down the sidewalk and into the neighbour’s driveway.”

Theresa said her son had been an “early talker” but talked less and less the more he was at Meggin’s. “He would scream from the time I loaded him up to take him there.” She pulled him out of Meggin’s the year before Nathaniel started attending. She said that while Meggin had at one point showed her “baby gates” she had purchased to put at the top of the basement stairs in her house, they were not installed when her son was there.

In their civil suit against the Van Hoofs, the McLellans allege that Lovett “removed her own child from the care of Meggin Van Hoof due to obvious negligence” and criticize the police for not interviewing Lovett for two years. The Van Hoofs, in their reply to the McLellan lawsuit, state that baby gates were installed at the top and bottom of the basement stairs. The Van Hoofs also state that Theresa Lovett removed her child because she wanted a “different schedule for snacks and naps than that set at the Van Hoof household.”

Another Strathroy woman I spoke to, Amanda Starling, lived nearby and said she had a friend with a child in Meggin’s care. Amanda said on two occasions prior to the Nathaniel injury that she happened to drive by Meggin’s on Head Street and saw up to four children who appeared to be between the ages of one and four running unattended on the large front lawn, playing with balls and little toys.

I asked Meggin about the observations of the two women and she denied the incidents occurred. The police did not speak to the two women during their initial investigation but later interviewed Theresa Lovett. The Star does not have access to those interview notes.

The police notes contained in the search warrant material show that a detective did speak to one woman who normally had three children in Meggin’s home daycare, but only one child the day Nathaniel went to hospital (the two-and-a-half-year-old toddler). Sarah MacGilvery, the mom, told the detective she “has no concerns with the care (Meggin) is providing.” She said her children have fun at Meggin’s, often playing outside, but sometimes down in the rec room in the basement.

In police interviews contained in search warrant documents, information is often included but with no explanation as to why it is there. That is the situation with the opening line in the police summary of Meggin’s interview. It reads, “Meggin states she has not been drinking or taking drugs recently.” The question about drinking or taking drugs is not raised in any other police interviews, including those of Nathaniel’s parents, his grandparents, Kathy Webster, or another woman who helped with Nathaniel’s child care. Meggin did not respond to a question from the Star regarding drinking or drug use.

How police investigated

When the Strathroy police received a call from a nurse at the Strathroy hospital reporting that a 15-month-old boy was being treated for unexplained injuries, police were handed a mystery. Child injuries are more difficult than adult cases as there are, generally speaking, fewer witnesses. Ontario also has a spotty record of child investigations. As provincial reviews have found, sometimes police have targeted the wrong people.

By roughly 11:30 a.m. that Tuesday, Nathaniel was in considerable medical distress. Meggin called the school to reach Rose-Anne, rather than dialling 911. That issue was never raised by police in the investigative notes the Star has obtained, and neither Meggin nor her lawyer responded to questions related to this, saying the matter is before the courts (the civil actions between the McLellans and the Van Hoofs).

Once Nathaniel was in hospital, Strathroy police began their probe, and days later the OPP took over. Nathaniel’s parents, who stayed at his bedside and in a Ronald McDonald house in London, would several days later, on Oct. 31, 2015, make the difficult decision to take him off life support after doctors explained to them the devastating brain injury he had suffered.

Suspicion of Nathaniel’s parents, particularly of Rose-Anne, began immediately. Doctors, nurses and social workers at both hospitals told detectives that they found Rose-Anne’s behaviour odd — for example, they reported to police that she was only asking about Nathaniel’s condition, not how it happened. Staff Sgt. Gilles Philion, the Strathroy detective who began the investigation, recorded in his notes that a social worker told him that a doctor told her that “ICU staff said interactions with mom were bizarre.”

Diane McLellan, Rose-Anne’s sister-in-law, commented to me during an interview that the police were unfair to draw conclusions from any behaviours during such a trying time. “If something happened to one of my kids I would lose it,” she said.

Joanne, Rose-Anne’s sister, was with her at the hospital while Nathaniel was clinging to life and she recalls nothing more than what could be expected. “She was very distraught. She was showering (Nathaniel) with kisses and (saying) I love you, come back to us … how do you behave when your child is on life support … I thought she was doing remarkably well, all things considered.”

Rose-Anne, in a meeting two years later with doctors on Nathaniel’s case, told them “you judged us in our darkest hour.”

According to search warrant documents unsealed following a court challenge by the Star, police had three “persons of interest” very early in their probe — Rose-Anne, Kent and Meggin. A person of interest is not necessarily a suspect, but is a person who police believe may have some involvement in a criminal act, and could eventually rise to level of suspect and be charged if evidence of criminal action is found.

In pursuit of the police investigation, search warrants and production orders were authorized for access to Kent and Meggin’s cellular phones. (Rose-Anne at the time did not have a cellphone.) There were searches of the McLellan residence, three of them, between the day Nathaniel was injured and the day two weeks later when Rose-Anne and Kent were interviewed by the OPP.

While police went to the McLellan home three times in the first two weeks of the probe (only once with a warrant), the only time police entered Meggin’s home to conduct a search was two weeks after the incident. In one of my brief interviews with Meggin, she said police showed up two weeks after “the accident” with “forensics.” She declined to elaborate.

The warrant did not give police permission to look outside at Meggin’s backyard and its climbing structure. The police documents obtained by the Star do not describe what, if anything, was learned at Meggin’s home.

This case has largely taken place out of the public eye. The London media did report briefly on Nathaniel’s death several hours after his funeral on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. The McLellan family notes angrily that one report on a television station’s social media account referred to Nathaniel having “previous injuries.” The McLellans say that would make the casual listener believe that he was a victim of previous abuse, which was untrue, according to Nathaniel’s doctor, a battery of tests run on Nathaniel when he was on life support, and his autopsy, which listed Nathaniel as a “well-nourished” and “healthy appearing” 15-month-old.

After the initial flurry of police activity, the case became dormant. When the Star learned of it from a relative of the McLellans a year and a half after Nathaniel died, we went to court to unseal the warrants. Search warrants are helpful in understanding a police investigation because they detail investigative steps and include police interview summaries.

During the Star’s application to unseal the warrants in 2018, a Crown attorney told a judge they would not object to the material being released because the investigation was over and no charges were laid. Today, five and a half years after Nathaniel died, OPP Insp. Pete Liptrott is refusing to release any subsequent information on the case to the family or the Star because, he says, it is an active and ongoing investigation.

As the months and years passed, Nathaniel’s parents, particularly Rose-Anne, moved into detective mode.

“We want to know what happened to our son,” Rose-Anne says. “We want Nathaniel to have justice and we want the system to change so that other families will not go through what we have gone through.”

Rose-Anne, who had never owned a cellphone and spent little time in front of a monitor, has become skilled at computer sleuthing, educating herself on many aspects of the justice and medical system. Some members of her family, including her father, Richard Van De Wiele, high school teacher turned tobacco farmer, were concerned with her obsession.

“My fear was that she would get so wrapped up in it she would not be paying attention to the family that was there,” Richard said in an interview. “I sort of got on the wrong side to start. I said be careful of what you are doing there. You are going against the police and people don’t win when they go against the police.”

Rose-Anne was undeterred. She studied up on police investigations of child deaths, in Canada and internationally, looking for best practices. When she learned of a question to ask she would reach out to those involved in Nathaniel’s case. She and Kent secured meetings with top officials from the coroner to child protection experts.

And she and Kent have become adept at surreptitiously recording conversations. Included in their recordings are the numerous doctors who treated Nathaniel, and the coroner, pathologist and other experts who dealt with his case after death. In retrospect, they wish they had recorded the police.

“We wanted a record of what they were saying,” Rose-Anne says, explaining why during most of their conversations her iPhone was set to “record.”

What became apparent to the couple as they went down this investigative road was the importance of the nature of their son’s injury and how it related to timing. This was information the police refused to provide. Believing that they had a right to know, they went looking.

This voyage of discovery was difficult. On the recordings, both parents at times break down from learning the extent of their son’s injuries in clear, clinical terms.

Here’s one doctor speaking to the parents: “To be perfectly frank, the injuries (to Nathaniel) were so widespread. On the MRI, involving so many parts of the brain. Surface of the brain. Brain stem. It was so extensive that it is hard to know what was first, second or third,” Dr. Craig Campbell, pediatric neurologist, told the McLellans during one of their conversations to discuss Nathaniel’s case in November 2016, one year after Nathaniel died.

Campbell and other specialists discovered a major fracture at the back of Nathaniel’s head, on the right side, described in various medical reports either as an eight-, nine- or 10-centimetre fracture. There was also bruising on the left temple, distinct from the minor bump in the centre of his forehead from the door bump on the Monday night.

Dr. David Warren, the London hospital’s medical director of child protection, described to them his initial findings.

“In Nathaniel’s case we knew he had an injury. We also know that there was a whack to the head at some point because of the fracture. At some point there was some acceleration of the head. Some rapid movement. There were some findings in the neck. Somehow there was stretching in the neck.”

The CT scan on Nathaniel in London revealed the fracture to be on the occipital bone on the right side at the back of his head. There was no laceration to the scalp, no bleeding, indicating he was most likely struck by — or his head struck — a flat or rounded object. The other injury, the unexplained bruise on the front left of the forehead, suggested that Nathaniel may have been struck on the left side of the forehead, knocking his head back, which then struck a hard, flat object. (As to the small red mark in the centre of Nathaniel’s forehead from the “door bump,” doctors eventually determined that was irrelevant.)

Yet shortly after Nathaniel was rushed to hospital, the focus was on his parents and, in particular, Rose-Anne. According to Dr. Warren (none of the doctors who were recorded would agree to be interviewed by the Star and all have been informed that they were recorded), both the Strathroy police and OPP seemed convinced that she was involved. Dr. Warren, a child protection expert, told Rose-Anne and Kent during a meeting two years after Nathaniel died that police were “really pushing” that Rose-Anne was “the one who did it.”

The most likely scenario for police, according to the doctors, was that Rose-Anne had bumped Nathaniel with the door at roughly 5:30 p.m. Monday — the evening before he was rushed to hospital. Under this scenario, the door to the cellar was open and after the door bump Nathaniel had fallen head over heels down the eight steps, and landed in a heap on the cement floor. Or, under a second scenario, Nathaniel had been allowed to play outside and had fallen in the foundations for a renovation the McLellan family was constructing.

The first problem with the police scenario was that Nathaniel only had a tiny bump in the centre of his forehead from the “door bump” in the early evening the day before he collapsed at the babysitter’s home and had to be rushed to hospital. This was roughly 19 hours after the bump. A photo of him taken later that evening, as part of a birthday event, shows Nathaniel smiling. Also, Nathaniel had no bruises to his body, which the family says makes it clear he did not fall down steep stairs.

His brothers and parents recall a completely normal night. When the boys were getting haircuts from their mom that evening in advance of picture day, Nathaniel ran around the bathroom scooping up mounds of hair and throwing it in the air, laughing. He had a normal sleep that night, and woke up, had a good breakfast of oatmeal, waved goodbye to his brothers as they ran off to the bus stop, then was dropped off at Meggin’s daycare at 8:30 a.m.

According to Meggin, who told police about Nathaniel’s behaviour when she had care of him, Nathaniel was able to ride in the wagon twice that morning, eat a snack and play. At some point in the morning, though, he did not seem himself. When that was, her police interview does not say.

What the London doctors, including a pathologist and the neuropathologist who examined Nathaniel as part of the autopsy, discovered was that Nathaniel had such a terrible injury to his head that he was doomed from the time it happened.

In a neuropathology report by Dr. David Ramsay, he noted that if the swelling of the brain was indeed caused by the blunt-force trauma to the back of Nathaniel’s head, Nathaniel “would have exhibited symptoms immediately and most likely have been unconscious.”

This information was shared with police early on, but they apparently took little or no notice of it. The family did not receive this information until years later. The McLellan family believes this medical information rules out their involvement in Nathaniel’s death.

Along the way, there was one complicating scenario for the doctors. The theory that Nathaniel’s injury was the result of the door bump the night before, and that something called “malignant cerebral edema” was responsible — meaning a blow that led to a very slow bleed of the brain, over a period of hours.

While this was considered by the pathologists and the coroner, it was eventually dismissed, as “malignant cerebral edema” is not generally known to occur in children as young as Nathaniel. And besides, specialists told the parents, if it had happened the night before, Nathaniel would likely have not woken up the next day.

More than a year and a half after Nathaniel died, doctors told Rose-Anne and Kent that Nathaniel’s injury most likely happened within a short time of Nathaniel collapsing at 11:30 a.m. that Tuesday.

Dr. Ramsay, the London neuropathologist who consulted on the case, told Rose-Anne and Kent in April of 2017 that based on the type of injury Nathaniel had he would show signs of deterioration very quickly. “Kids are not OK after impact.” He said that bleeding inside the head puts pressure on the brain, causing swelling inside the brain, and that is what affects behaviour. “If put down for a nap, (you) would have trouble waking that child up. Child would not wake up normal.”

Ramsay told the parents, with the coroner on the case present at the meeting, that Nathaniel “would have been unconscious as far as we understand from very soon after or at the time of the injury.” He used the metaphor of a power failure, Nathaniel’s consciousness would “flicker on and off” for a short time and then he would be unconscious.

Much of that information had been available to both the Strathroy police and OPP since the early days of the investigation. Still, the focus was on Rose-Anne and Kent.

Both agreed to take a polygraph test at one point, and both passed. Meggin, the babysitter, declined to take a lie-detector test, according to a note from one of the OPP officers on the case.

Rose-Anne and Kent made a series of complaints about the conduct of the Strathroy detectives and OPP detectives, alleging they conducted a biased, shoddy investigation, and shared confidential information with the public. In one section of the complaint, the McLellans allege that some of the Strathroy officers were friendly with the babysitter’s family. An OPP officer was assigned to investigate all of the complaints. He cleared all of the officers involved, calling the allegations “unfounded.” The final report from the OPP notes that some of the officers are retired and declined to participate in the investigation. Meggin Van Hoof also declined, the report states.

Only one of the officers involved in the case, retired Strathroy constable Mike McGuire (assigned as “Major Case Management file co-ordinator” until the OPP took over), would agree to be interviewed by the Star. McGuire, who lives across the street and down a few houses from the Van Hoofs, said he does not know the Van Hoofs and never shared information about the case. “I do not know them, I do not socialize with them, I do not speak with them, I don’t think I have ever dealt with them.”

The two grandfathers in this story, Kent’s dad, Wayne, and Rose-Anne’s dad, Richard, continue to be concerned that the case was poorly investigated.

“What the Strathroy police department put Kent and Rose-Anne through,” says Wayne McLellan. “They were determined that they would be found guilty. They went after Kent and Rose-Anne so fiercely.”

Richard, Rose-Anne’s father, said he is proud of his daughter for standing up for her son.

“In the beginning they were just afraid of the police. Rose-Anne was afraid to go into Strathroy. The police has a tremendous amount of power. You do not want to get a policeman mad.”

Next: Part Five — Wrong Turns

As Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the U.S., Canada is set to commemorate its first countrywide Emancipation Day later this year

Jun 19, 2021 6:00:00 AM

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When John Baker died in Cornwall, Ont., the last living vestiges of slavery in Canada died with him.

Baker, widely considered to be the last person of African descent born into slavery in Canada, was born a slave in Quebec in the 1780s, was freed along with his mother in 1804, fought in the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars — for the British army — and died at home, among his family in Cornwall in his 90s.

That was in 1871. But his death didn’t mean the legacies of this country’s 200-year history of slavery died with him. In fact, 150 years after the country’s last surviving enslaved man died, anti-Black racism in Canada is alive, well and systemic, says Canadian Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard.

And that’s why it’s so important that this federal government in March acknowledged an official Emancipation Day, she says.

Though it’s already observed in some places in the country — Ontario, Nova Scotia and Vancouver, for example — this Aug. 1 will mark the first time the country as a whole commemorates the day in 1834 when slavery was officially abolished across the British Empire.

It comes at a time when, south of the border — in the midst of racial reckoning of their own — the U.S. on Thursday passed legislation to declare Juneteenth a national holiday. That recognizes June 19, the day in 1865 when slaves were freed in Texas, the last holdout for slavery, almost three years and most of a Civil War after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.

“Acknowledging Emancipation Day essentially means that Canada is finally acknowledging that slavery was a part of our history,” says Bernard. “That’s not been the way Canadian history tells the history of African presence in Canada.”

Usually, she says, history texts focus on the Underground Railroad, the network of routes and safe houses used to smuggle slaves from the U.S. to freedom in Canada. They tend to gloss over Canada’s history of importing, owning and buying enslaved people.

“The narrative that’s been taught in this country is one that we’ve been better than our neighbours to the south; that slavery didn’t exist here; that this was the land of freedom and opportunity that the poor African Americans were able to escape to,” says Bernard.

“And yes, that’s part of the history. But acknowledging and recognizing Emancipation Day means that we’re acknowledging and recognizing the reality that African people were enslaved in Canada.”

The British Empire’s abolition of slavery didn’t mean the beginning of equity. What it did was open the doors for nefarious, systemic discrimination, says Bernard. And that’s the battle that Black people in Canada face today.

“Systemic racism impacted education, which then impacts everything else,” says Bernard. “If you don’t have access to education, that impacts your employment and your employability. That impacts your housing, that impacts your health. It’s like a house of cards.

“Slavery was abolished, but anti-Black racism wasn’t.”

In 2018, when Bernard first began a push for an Emancipation Day, it wasn’t considered a high priority in the Senate. Her bid stalled out when the 2019 election was called. But the baton was picked up post-election by Richmond Hill MP Majid Jowhari, and in March of this year the House of Commons unanimously adopted Bill M-36, making Aug. 1 officially Emancipation Day across Canada.

To a large extent, both Canada’s and the U.S.’s long overdue pieces of legislation were driven home by the same event, says Bernard: the murder last year of a Black man by a white Minneapolis police officer in broad daylight with cameras watching.

George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin not only triggered protests all over the world, but also provoked a global self-reckoning on racism.

“That newsfeed played over and over and over again,” she says. “And I think that the world woke up. Woke up to the reality of racism, woke up to the reality of racism as a form of violence, woke up to the reality of racism and state violence.”

It’s a time, on both sides of the border and across the world, she believes, when people have been looking for ways to make more meaningful structural and systemic changes. Both pieces of legislation — Juneteenth and Emancipation Day — says Bernard, are symptoms of that desire.

But the changes still have to go deeper than merely setting aside one day a year to pause for reflection, says historian and educator Natasha Henry.

Henry literally wrote the book on Emancipation Day. It’s called “Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada,” published in 2010.

She says the establishment of an Emancipation Day is merely the spring from which more change must flow.

“We want it to be utilized, not just as a performative thing, not just, ‘Hello, today’s Emancipation Day.’ But (used) in understanding this history and understanding the realities of enslavement here in Canada,” she says.

“I see it as being part of this ongoing advocacy, this push for continued improved citizenship, quality of life, and improvement of the desperate outcomes, that Black Canadians continue to face.”

Bernard will be celebrating her birthday this year on the same day that Canada commemorates its first national Emancipation Day.

She says she hopes that day will encourage those with power and influence to start thinking about how they can use that power and influence to create more equity for Black people and other marginalized groups.

But she also believes those kinds of changes come down to individual Canadians, too.

“I want people to be thinking about what they can do,” she says. “Because it’s not just about looking to government to make these big changes. Yes, those are important. And we’ll keep pushing for those.

“But I want I want ordinary Canadians to be thinking, “What can I do? What’s my role? What are the things that I can do?’ And I think it starts with some conversations. With some difficult conversations.”

Steve McKinley is a Halifax-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @smckinley1

‘Suddenly, my passport felt a lot less powerful’: One writer on falling in love with another woman while travelling in Australia and if the world is actually becoming more welcoming for LGBTQ travelle

Jun 19, 2021 6:00:00 AM

copenhagen credit daniel rasmussen wonderful copenhagen suddenly my passport felt a lot less powerful one writer on falling in love with another woman while travelling in australia and if the world is actually becoming more welcoming for lgbtq travelle 19 06 2021 travel life thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

It’s after midnight. My eyes burn from exhaustion, but when I spot the glowing lights of Moscow’s Red Square, I start to feel the familiar buzz of being in a new destination. That’s when my cab driver utters the five words female travellers dread most:

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

I’ve been asked this question countless times in countless countries. I should be able to answer it without thinking. Regardless of the truth, the answer is always “yes.”

But this time, when the lie slips out, it holds a different weight. That’s because for the first time, I don’t have a boyfriend — I have a girlfriend. This is my first international trip as a queer woman, and I’ve just arrived in Russia, ranked 46 out of 49 European countries for LGBTQ rights (or lack thereof) by ILGA-Europe (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association).

I’d long believed the Mark Twain quote that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I’d also always taken my ability to travel freely for granted. By 30, I’d already explored more than 30 countries. Planning a holiday with male partners was a matter of throwing a dart at a map, booking a ticket, then carelessly strolling through the streets of whatever foreign city, hand in hand.

That all changed at 33, when I fell in love with a woman while travelling in Australia. With homosexual activity illegal in over 70 countries worldwide, suddenly my passport felt a lot less powerful. Gone, too, was my fantasy about a romantic holiday to Egypt, ranked by the 2021 LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index as one of the most dangerous destinations for queer travellers. My sense of privilege had shifted, although I’m conscious that my identity as a white, middle-class Canadian still makes it relatively easy for me to explore the world.

My experience isn’t unique. Sara Weber, who has worked in the travel industry for more than 20 years, was in Thailand when she fell in love with a woman for the first time.

“I didn’t know if you could kiss someone of the same sex in Thailand, or if it was safe to get into a taxi together,” she recalls. But it wasn’t until a work trip to South Africa that she realized what it means to travel as a bisexual woman. “It was my first experience feeling unsafe and being like, ‘Whoa, I have been so privileged to travel my whole life as just a single white female,’” she says.

For those of us new to the LGBTQ community, we’re learning that the discrimination queer people experience can be amplified by travel. Ordinary interactions, from catching an Uber to checking in at a hotel, may require us to out ourselves. These challenges are only more complex for nonbinary and transgender individuals, who have their own unique concerns, such as getting through airport security or navigating cultures where traditional gender norms are deeply ingrained. That doesn’t even touch on the disproportionate likelihood they’ll encounter violence on holiday.

But we’re also learning that the gay travel map is expanding, with improved LGBTQ visibility and social change in an increasing number of countries. Homosexuality was recently decriminalized in Bhutan and India; gay marriage was made legal in Taiwan, Costa Rica and Northern Ireland; and a handful of countries, including Canada, have introduced gender-neutral passports. With a growing number of tour operators and destinations explicitly positioning themselves as LGBTQ-friendly, the world feels more open today than even a decade or so ago.

“In 1983 when IGLTA [the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association] was founded, it was very underground,” says president and CEO John Tanzella. “Now, we have staff in seven countries and business members in 82 countries.” In a 2021 survey of more than 6,000 people, IGLTA found that LGBTQ travellers will be among the most likely travellers to book a trip post-pandemic, with 73 per cent of respondents planning to take a major vacation this year.

The travel industry has made efforts to be more inclusive to LGBTQ travellers, too. When I checked in to the SO/ Auckland with my partner last year, I was thrilled to discover “hers” and “hers” robes and toiletries in our room. These small changes are driven by institutional changes from within, including improved workplace inclusion and diversity policies. In 2021, for instance, Marriott International was ranked among the top employers in America for LGBTQ equality, as rated by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.

The shift is also being reflected in travel marketing. Take, for example, booking site Orbitz’s new “Travel As You Are” campaign and its corresponding microsite, featuring nonbinary, lesbian and Black gay travellers.

But even with the travel industry working to create safer, more welcoming environments, this doesn’t eliminate the challenge of trying to abide by cultural norms in conservative countries. Nor does it answer the question of whether you should be spending your money in destinations with poor human rights records.

IGLTA, for one, doesn’t condone boycotting destinations. “We support a lot of places that are really challenging for LGBT people, such as businesses in Jamaica and Egypt,” says Tanzella. “The local LGBT community wants us to come and support them and be visible. It doesn’t mean wearing rainbow clothes, but it is about building bridges and helping [other people] understand different ways of living.”

Robert Sharp, owner of Out Adventures, a Toronto-based LGBTQ tour company that travels to destinations including Morocco, Zambia and Jordan, agrees. He says that meeting locals in the middle, such as by dressing according to cultural norms, often results in what he calls accidental activism. “Just by being respectful of the local people, we’re able to create dialogue,” he says.

Travelling to countries where homosexuality remains taboo can be an act of social justice that supports LGBTQ people abroad. And travel can be central to the experience of coming out: Those who grew up closeted in isolated, rural areas had to travel to cities or abroad to find their communities. Copenhagen is currently preparing to host this summer’s WorldPride, which drew an estimated 5 million people to New York City in 2019. And for some people (like myself), travel has allowed us to discover parts of our identity that we didn’t even know existed.

For Weber, she says her experience has changed how she plans to travel post-pandemic. “I want to connect with people in the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. “Sharing stories is such a valuable part of travel, and in the LGBTQ+ community, everybody has a story.”

Twain’s idealistic view wasn’t entirely wrong. Travel may not be fatal to prejudice — but it may help create understanding, both of ourselves and of others.

The Star understands the restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But like you, we dream of travelling again, and we’re publishing this story with future trips in mind.

CP24 News

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