A Toronto woman who starved her five-year-old grandson to death wanted custody of the boy and his siblings because she lived in social housing and without them she could lose her home, a coroner’s inquest heard Monday.
Jeffrey Baldwin’s mother told the inquest that her mother was constantly threatening to take her four children away.
“(It) seemed like all she ever wanted was my kids,” Yvonne Kidman told the inquest.
Kidman’s parents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, did eventually get custody of all four children. The eldest sister was apprehended first by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society and put in Bottineau’s care, then she went to family court to get permanent custody.
Jeffrey, who weighed just 21 pounds when he died at almost age six, and his other sister ended up in their grandparents’ care in the same way. Their younger brother was apprehended hours after he was born.
It wasn’t until after Jeffrey’s death that the children’s aid society discovered in their own records that Bottineau and Kidman had each been convicted of abusing her children from a previous relationship.
Around the time Bottineau and Kidman got custody of Jeffrey and one of his sisters, two of their own daughters had moved out and the third was thinking of leaving, Yvonne Kidman testified.
“She was on the verge of losing her home because she loses all her money,” Kidman said, but she didn’t figure it out at the time. Bottineau and Kidman lived in social housing.
Back then, as a mother of three barely out of her teens, she just knew she kept losing custody of her children to her mother.
“She used to threaten me that she’d take them away and I’d never see them again,” Kidman said.
Kidman and her mother did not have a good relationship, she said. She was kicked out of the house at age 16 and had her first child — a planned pregnancy with boyfriend Richard Baldwin — not long after.
But when the teenage parents fought, sometimes physically, they would phone Bottineau for advice, they have each testified. Records show that Bottineau would then call the children’s aid society and relay information about those fights to them.
Kidman disputed much of the information contained in Catholic Children’s Aid Society files, such as allegations she yelled at her kids, that her apartment was dirty, that the children didn’t have any bedtime routines and were kept up as late as 2 a.m., that she hit her kids and shook two of them in a welfare office.
She and Richard Baldwin had problems, she admitted, but the children were happy and healthy.
As they lost custody of each child to the grandparents under what they thought were temporary arrangements, Bottineau would file for, and get, permanent custody in family court.
The young parents couldn’t afford a lawyer and didn’t know they would likely qualify for legal aid, Kidman testified. It felt like they didn’t have much choice but to agree to the grandparents getting custody, Kidman said.
“It felt like me and Richard were forced to sign it,” Kidman said. “It was either a) they either went to my parents or they went to foster care, where I would never ever see them again.”
When the kids were in Bottineau and Kidman’s care, the young parents were frequently denied their court-ordered visits, Yvonne Kidman said.
Within about four years of living under Bottineau and Kidman’s roof Jeffrey withered and died. He and the sister closest in age to him were locked in their cold, barely furnished room for long stretches of time and were denied access to the bathroom because they drank out of the toilet, the inquest has heard. So they urinated and defecated in their bedroom and were then forced to mop up their own waste.
The two were severely underfed and a pediatric nutritionist has testified that the fact Jeffrey’s sister was allowed to go to school, where a daily snack was provided, may have saved her life.
By the end of Jeffrey’s short life he could barely walk and couldn’t lift his own head, the inquest has heard. A pathologist testified that Jeffrey would have suffered greatly at the end as his body would have been too weak to keep up with the rapid breathing necessitated by the pneumonia that ultimately killed him.
Bottineau and Kidman were ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in his death and are serving life sentences.
Yvonne Kidman is scheduled to continue her testimony Tuesday.