NTI supports public inquiry into abuse of disabled Nunavut child in Ontario
“An inquiry is needed to restore public confidence”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has told Dalton McGuinty, the premier of Ontario, that the Ontario government should hold a public inquiry into the treatment of a blind and disabled Nunavut-born Inuit child, Joshua Salmonson, now 14, who suffered severe burn injuries in 2010 at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont.
“It is apparent that a thorough, speedy and effective public inquiry into the Joshua Salmonson matter is warranted, and, indeed, is necessary in the public interest,” NTI said Nov. 13 in a letter signed by acting president James Eetoolook. (The letter is embedded at the bottom of this page.)
NTI also reminded McGuinty that the boy is a beneficiary of the Nunavut land claims agreement.
The boy’s parents, Joshua and Rebecca Salmonson, in late 2011 filed a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court against the Ross MacDonald School, the Ontario ministry of education, the Children’s Aid Society of Brantford and the Brantford Police Service.
Their statement of claim alleges that in January 2010, after bringing their son back home to Ottawa for a visit, they found open sores on their son’s buttocks caused by burns they say could only have been inflicted at the MacDonald school.
A doctor at an Appletree clinic in Ottawa said the injuries were three to four days old, which means they must have occurred at the school, the statement of claim said.
But the school did not report the injuries to the Salmonsons and has not disclosed to them the results of their own investigation, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said the child, who was 11 at the time, suffered permanent scarring and that staff at the Ross Macdonald School used excessive restraining methods and damaged the boy’s face by using “inappropriate tooth-brushing methods.”
At the same time, the couple alleges that the Brantford Police Service and the Children’s Aid Society of Brantford did not adequately investigate the incident and may have withheld information.
“An inquiry is needed to restore public confidence in the WRMS, the Ontario child welfare system and police investigations in the province of Ontario,” the NTI letter said.
The Ross Macdonald School, founded in 1872, is operated by Ontario’s education department.
After the incident, the child’s parents eventually pulled their son out of the W. Ross MacDonald school, where he had been receiving therapy since 2006.
The boy, who is blind, non-verbal and developmentally delayed, has regressed since the incident, the statement of claim alleges.
They said speech pathologists had worked on expanding their son’s limited vocabulary, but since January 2010, “Joshua has not said one word to the present day.”
The parents said in their lawsuit that a neurologist confirmed to them that “a traumatic experience could cause Joshua to lose his very limited speech.”
The W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind also faces a class-action lawsuit filed this past spring by lawyers representing up to 1,000 former students.
The class-action suit alleges that school staff physically and sexually abused blind students as far back as 1951.
The Salmonsons, however, have not joined the class action suit but decided to file their own statement of claim, unrepresented by a lawyer.
The family, who now live in Nova Scotia, said they can’t afford to pay for legal counsel and that legal aid officials in Ontario and Nova Scotia have told them they do not have the resources to handle such a large file.
“No family should ever be put into the scenario wondering about severe mistreatment and abuse to their child and not knowing fully what happened, especially at a government-run residential school, especially with an innocent special needs child,” the lawsuit said.
This is not the first time the Salmonsons have gone to court on behalf of their child.
In 2006, Justice Earl Johnson ordered the Government of Nunavut to continue paying the cost of health treatment for the boy including an essential nutritional supplement called Pediasure.
GN health officials had cut that funding in December 2004. Without the Pediasure, the boy suffered malnutrition and rapid weight loss.
In his judgment, Johnson called those actions “high-handed” and “highly questionable.”
Ironically, the GN eventually agreed to arrangements, starting in 2006, that saw the boy begin care at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind.