A four-year-old girl who died after eating a batch of Halloween candy may have been deliberately poisoned, say police, who have taken the unprecedented move of urging Vancouver parents to confiscate their children's candy.
The girl fell ill on Oct. 31 after she and her two older sisters sat down to eat the candy they had collected trick-or-treating in their East Vancouver neighbourhood. Most of the candy was store-bought.
"There is certainly the possibility that the candy, in fact, had been tampered with and that the child had ingested a poison," police spokesman Constable Scott Driemel said yesterday.
Police have not released the name of the girl, whose family lives in a quiet, residential neighbourhood. The girl's two older sisters have been checked by doctors and are fine.
Police say the child may have died from other causes, but they issued the warning as a precaution.
Six homicide detectives have been assigned to the case and they have taken candy samples from other neighbourhood children. Constable Driemel said the girl felt ill at bedtime on Oct. 31 and the next day her condition quickly deteriorated. She began vomiting and by the time her mother brought her to a medical clinic, she was lethargic. She was taken to hospital and died on Thursday evening of heart failure.
An autopsy conducted yesterday did not yield any obvious medical reason for death.
Police must now wait for the results of toxicology tests, which will require a week to complete.
Constable Driemel said the girl was healthy and had no allergies.
Police said the girl's mother took the girl trick-or-treating early Wednesday evening. She brought her home and then took out the girl's two older sisters, aged 8 and 12. When the older girls returned with their mother, the children pooled their candy and ate some of it, Constable Driemel said.
Police said it's possible that the death was not a homicide. The girl could have ingested a household poison or died of a congenital condition.
"We need to stress that at this time the death may not be connected to any Halloween tainted candy," Constable Driemel said.
However, he added that there "are indicators" that the girl's death was not related to a medical problem. He would not elaborate.
In issuing the candy warning, Constable Driemel said parents shouldn't take any risks.
"This is a real tough call," he said. "We can't guarantee that the candy is, in fact, safe. It's a terrible tragedy to have . . . a child die and it's also equally upsetting to have to have a holiday that's as special as Halloween to kids, to have to rain on the situation and take the candy away. Perhaps we're going to have to look at putting away the treats for this year."
In more than two decades on the job, Constable Driemel said he can't recall police ever urging parents to take away their children's candy.
The girl's death shocked residents of the neighbourhood.
"It's all kids and families here," said Peter Nigro, whose family has lived in the neighbourhood almost 35 years. Mr. Nigro said he doesn't believe the girl's death was a homicide.
"I'm 99 per cent sure nothing like that could happen here.
"This is East Vancouver and East Vancouver has a bad reputation, but this is an established neighbourhood."
There were reports of tainted Halloween candy in other Canadian cities.
In Halifax yesterday, police were investigating the discovery of a sewing needle in a candy collected on Halloween.
RCMP in Tantallon, N.S., said a youngster noticed that a wrapper on the candy looked unusual.
Her father found the needle inside.
In Burlington, Ont., police were probing a suspicious item found in a child's candy.
Halton Regional Police said a small clear capsule with a suspicious brown powder was found inside a clear plastic "grab bag." The substance has been sent for testing.