“A little kick on the bum”

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I’ve had a bit of time trying to piece together Cathy Sutherland’s testimony.  Without access to documents referenced or quoted from and entered into evidence there are so many gaps. 

As I understand it the following is part of Cathy’s testimony:

1.  She was born in Winchester 28 June 1955 Catherine.  He maiden name was Donnelly.  He father seems to have left when she was young.  Her mother Joan seems to have married three times and has carried the surname Donnelly,  Kelly, and now Casselmann.

 2.  She was raised Mormon and attended the Mormon church as a child.

3.  As mentioned in a previous blog Cathy testified that she was physically and sexually abused by her mother. She was prostituted by her mother.  She was sexually abused by her foster father Carl Virgil.

4. In October 1957 when she was just a toddler a Children’s Aid Society worker visited the home. This seems to have been prompted by calls from the extended family to CAS.  CAS notes of the day indicate the child showed evidence of being badly beaten:

 “Joan [Cathy’s mother] brought Cathy downstairs and Cathy appeared very much a mite, with the most severely bruised face worker had ever seen on a person.”

She was not removed from the environment.  Arrangements were made to keep an eye on the situation and some form of therapy was set up for the mother.

5. A few months later, in early 1958 when she was 28-months-old, Cathy suffered severe second and third degree burns to her feet when.  Her mother said she had turned the hot water tap on in the bathtub.  There is indication that some believed the child was deliberately scalded by her mother.  Following this burn incident she was placed in a foster home for the first time.  The burns were so severe she apparently required a prolonged series of skin grafts.

6. After two years in foster care Cathy was returned to her mother.  Initially she was returned as a ward.  Eventually authorities concluded that things were going well and full care was restored to her mother.

According to Cathy after her return home the physical abuse continued.  She testified and documents in evidence see to indicate that her mother would boil water to pour on her hands, hold a hot iron on her back, hold her hand on the hot burner of the stove as punishment for biting her nails. 

7.  According to Cathy her mother Joan murdered her three-month-old baby brother Stephen in 1963 (perhaps early ’64?). She made reference to seeing Joan throw the baby across the room and into his crib.  I am unsure if this was related directly to the baby’s death.

She testified that mother carried the baby around in a suitcase.  I can’t put the pieces together on this at all.  I don’t know if Joan allegedly carried the baby in a suitcase while he was alive, or if she carried the dead baby in a suitcase. When Cathy reported this to police in the late 90s they concluded there was insufficient evidence to lay charges

8.  Her mother sent her brother (Cathy’s brother) to kill her when she was thirteen years old.  This allegation was investigated by police in the late 90s.  He brother apparently admitted that his mother sent him to kill Cathy.  Police concluded there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.

9.  Her maternal grandmother, Blanche Shaver, was kind to her and concerned about her well-being. I don’t know if there is any connection here to former Chief of police Claude Shaver.

8.  According to Cathy the second time she was placed in a foster home (in her early teens) she was severely malnourished.  Notes of the day entered into evidence seem to corroborate this:

“Catherine was taken into care because of malnourishment, inadequate care and neglect. At one point, as a youngster, Cornwall medical staff were concerned if the situation continued for a period of six more weeks, Catherine might have died.”

9. In November 1996 Cathy reported her mother and Carl Virgin to police.  She gave a statement detailing her allegations of physical and sexual abuse against her mother, her allegations of sexual abuse against her foster father Carl Virgin, recounted the death of her baby brother and her belief that he had been murdered by their mother, and reported the incident wherein her mother allegedly sent a brother to kill her.

Because of jurisdictional issues some of the allegations were dealt with by the Cornwall police, others by the Morrisburg police, however it seems that perhaps they worked together and the investigation was conducted as a joint investigation.

Eventually she was essentially told that there was insufficient evidence to lay any charges.

10. Cathy’s CAS social worker was initially Blaine Grundy. After she left the Virgin home it was Derry Tenger.  Cathy testified that both Grundy and Tenger were told about the sexual abuse at the Virgin foster home.

Cathy’s cross-examination by Peter Chisholm (CAS) was nothing short of a show-down. Chisholm set out to show that CAS has acted appropriately.  Cathy was not about to concur.

Chisholm tried to get Cathy to agree that the following indicated that CAS had taken positive action and discussed removing Cathy from her home in 1957.  At the time Cathy was a 28 month-old toddler who had obviously been badly beaten.  Chisholm read from a worker’s notes of 29 October 1957 :

It was decided that we would not at this point take direct action to apprehend Cathy. We will visit weekly in an attempt to assess and help this mother find herself and also to keep an eye on Cathy’s treatment and progress.

Cathy in turn told Chisholm that her objection to CAS was not that nothing was done or that CAS had no plan in place, but rather, as she explained, that the plan was almost voyeuristic and was not suffice to protect her: 

I — I feel like I’m nit picking here. I mean, like how do you define intervene? If you know a child is being abused, like monitoring just seems like voyeurism to me. It’s like you go in every time and see there’s increasing levels of abuse, but still do nothing, but come back the next time.

Then Chisholm tried to point out that it was CAS workers who intervened five months later when Cathy had suffered second and third degree burn to her feet.  To that end he read the following 07 March 1958 excerpts into the record

“On this date, worker visited and found Catherine to be in bed with one very badly burned foot and the other slightly burned. One foot was completely covered in a huge watery blister. Mrs. Donnelly explained that she put Catherine in the tub and left her alone for a minute to return to the bedroom and when she came back Catherine had turned the hot water on full force. Consequently, the burn resulted. Worker was somewhat amazed that Mrs. Donnelly refused to call a doctor.

“Mrs. Shaver [Cathy’s maternal grandmother] was beside herself because her daughter stubbornly refused to get medical aid for the child. Right there, worker insisted that Mrs. Donnelly call any doctor, but that she must call one. Mrs. Donnelly disappeared leaving worker in the bedroom sitting there for one hour.

When worker finally went downstairs, Mrs. Donnelly was ironing and looked up at worker when we came downstairs, and she said she could not get a doctor. Worker picked up the telephone and immediately got Dr. Robertson’s office at Williamsburg. The doctor promised to visit that evening or first thing next morning.”

“Worker tried to emphasize to Mrs. Donnelly the danger of infection setting in in a severe burn like this and that we could not leave the house without knowing that medical attention would be coming.”

 Cathy concurred that CAS intervened, but added that she believed the circumstances were such that she should have been taken to hospital immediately.

That prompted the following exchange:

MR. CHISHOLM: That’s right, and I’m not going to dispute with you the case management philosophies 50 years ago versus today. You would expect — today I would certainly expect that what you described would happen.
 The child would be hospitalized.

 MS. SUTHERLAND: Mr. Chisholm, I understand that your role is to defend the Children’s Aid and the decisions that they made, but whether it was 50 years ago or a 100 years ago, seeing a child looking in that condition, I would expect that even 100 years ago that they would have instantly got medical attention.

MS. CHISHOLM: Well, I’m going to suggest to you that the telephone calls to the doctor was the medical attention. Would you agree with me?

MS. SUTHERLAND: No, I wouldn’t.

When things got right out of hand Justice Glaude stepped into the fray and, as he put it, gave “the finger” and a “little kick in the bum” to both Chisholm and Sutherland:

THE COMMISSIONER: Wait. Hold on. Hold on then.
What I’m going to ask you to do is simply answer his questions. All right? What we have to do is understand my role in all of this — is to hear his questions, and you’re quite right, he’s representing the interest of the Children’s Aid Society, but I can draw whatever inferences I can out of the testimony.

MS. SUTHERLAND: Okay.

THE COMMISSIONER: And, Mr. Chisholm — so I’ve given you the finger and I’m going to give Mr. Chisholm a little bit of the finger. Don’t argue. I understand what you’re doing and we don’t have to get into this kind of situation. All right?

…. So both of you are doing fine, I guess I should say, give a pat on the back and a little kick in the bum, a little bit.

And, we got a glimpse of the commissioner’s mind set regarding societal attitudes in the 50s and 60s and his notion that children could be left at risk because, according to him, the prevailing philosophy of the day was “the family at all costs”:

THE COMMISSIONER: I don’t know about that question, because I think then we’re looking at the evolution of the role of the Children’s Aid Society and the legislation, and without getting into it, it may well be that that was the philosophy at the time that was accepted by all, but I think the legislation now has changed and it’s not the family at all costs. I think historically, and if we go through it, we’ll see that now the best interests of the child is more of a focus than — they’re all integral factors but it’s not the be all and end all here.

….So if you want to ask the question, would you agree that — and I don’t know if the witness would be aware of that — that at the time in 1958 that the — and I don’t even know if that’s fact, but the prevailing philosophy was that one of the primary goals of the Children’s Aid Society was to keep families together when at all possible.

Where does this come from?

Couple that with Glaude’s comment when he stepped into the fray to mediate a showdown between Chisholm and Cathy Sutherland the previous day:

In today’s standards, parents are severely discouraged from corporal punishment on their children, whereas 50 years ago it might have been more acceptable to hand out corporal punishment. So over the years parents have tended to and society has gone away from corporal punishment on children.

 And so what he’s saying is that — using that example, what he’s saying is — he’s asking you whether it would be proper to use today’s standard of corporal punishment on what was going on in society 50 years ago, 35 years ago.

Scalding a child with boiling water has nothing to do with corporal punishment and was certainly never accepted as acceptable treatment of a child by society as a whole in the 50s and 60s.  Ditto throwing a baby across the room.  Ditto sending a boy off to murder his sister.  Ditto prostituting a child.  Ditto a mother sexually abusing her daughter.  Ditto beating a toddler black and blue. Ditto a foster father sexually abusing a foster child. Ditto carrying a baby – dead or alive – about in a suitcase.

I’m not about to get into the ins and outs of corporal punishment and societal attitudes toward child and family in the 50s and 60s being detrimental to the well-being and safety of children vs those of today, but I certainly smell rationalization in the offing. 

I will move on to C-4’s  C-6’s testimony,

Enough for now,

Sylvia

(cornwall@theinquiry.ca)

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