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Commentary
Jury makes key recommendations in aftermath of Jérèmie Audette inquest
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The circumstances surrounding the 2010 drowning death of Jérèmie Audette were the focus of a coroner's inquest which wrapped up on Tuesday. File photo


 

Except for bouts of reflux and a susceptibility to getting ear infections, Jérèmie Audette was just like any another highly-mobile, naturally-curious two-year-old.

Sadly, in his case, those characteristics that come naturally and instinctively to 99.9 per cent of toddlers in the world, helped lead to his drowning through a series of unfortunate, and largely preventable events.

The truth of the matter is that Jérèmie died as a result of human error. His babysitter failed to provide him and the other kids in her care with "adequate" supervision.

"Adequate" in this case would have been keeping an eye on him while she changed the other kids into their bathing suits. "Adequate" supervision would have also included posting an adult, either at the bottom of the stairs leading to the above ground pool, on the deck itself.

In both cases Jérèmie would be alive today if they had of been carried out.

Talk to anybody about the circumstances surrounding Jérèmie's death and inevitably the question is rased as to why his caregiver Cynthia McLellan and the owner of the home-based care where it happened weren't charged with criminal negligence.

The answer is simply, allowing one's self to be distracted, or a failure to provide "adequate" supervision, does not legally constitute negligence. The law states that in order to be charged with criminal negligence the accused must have demonstrated, "a wanton and reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others".

The definition of the word "wanton" in this regard is deliberate and unprovoked.

So while it could be argued the caregivers may have been reckless in failing to provide inadequate supervision, their actions were by no means "deliberate". Therefore they were not "criminally" negligent.

The five-member inquest jury made three key recommendations on Thursday. The first one is painfully obvious, while the other two are both impractical and nearly impossible to enforce.

The first recommendation is to ban pools at private daycares. If you ask me that's a no brainer. In fact, I can't believe they haven't been banned already.

If Wendy Lapierre didn't have a pool in her backyard, Jérèmie would be alive today.

The second recommendation is to make pool fencing with self-latching gates mandatory for every private pool in the province. But while this may be great news for fence installers, it places a ridiculous financial burden on pool owners who should already know that if they have small children or planning to have children they should erect a fence around their pool. That's called common sense. You can't legislate common sense or criminalize a lack of it.

The third recommendation is for the province to create a registry of unlicensed home-based daycares and allow for unscheduled visits by Ministry inspectors. Now, while this may seem like another no-brainer, It's almost impossible tp enforce. Right now anyone can take care of children and get paid to do it. It's called free enterprise.

The one recommendation the jury didn't make, but which is also painfully obvious, is for parents to do their research in finding a caregiver for their children. They should take the time to follow up with references and physically visit the house to make sure it is safe for young children.

Truth is accidents can happen at any time and they can sometimes lead to tragedy.

The cause of Jérèmie's death, and dozens of similar drowning involving young children, was the swimming pool. Get rid of swimming pools at home-based day cares and you won't have to worry about any kids accidentally drowning in them.

Tragically, it took the death of a two-year-old boy to enact and implement a regulation that should have been enacted and implemented years ago.

Moving forward, the Ministry should hire a network of inspectors to find unlicensed home-based daycares and conduct safety audits of each and every one of them. If the owners do not bring them up to standard within a given period of time they should be shut down immediately with the threat of heavy fines should they try to conduct business without fixing the problems.

This, along with parents empowering themselves with the proper knowledge before deciding where to send their children, should be Jérèmie's legacy. May he rest in peace.

(Posted 9:30 a.m., Dec. 7)

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