Breanne LeClair will never forget the day she got a call saying her son had turned blue and was not breathing.
As she rushed to a Thunder Bay hospital LeClair called her case worker at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care.
“I told her if anything happens to him it’s your fault. This is on you,” LeClair recalled through tears.
When she arrived she tried to go in her son’s room when a nurse threw herself in front of the door.
“She said, ‘are you prepared for what’s in there?’ I said ‘get out of my way that’s my baby. I don’t care. “I pushed her and I opened the door,” said LeClair.
She saw her son, Kyler Jai LeClair, surrounded by doctors and nurses. There were police officers in there, too.
Then they all stopped.
Kyler was gone.
He had been left on cluttered bed for approximately 30 minutes and presumably suffocated. The coroner ruled 10 months later it was an unsafe sleeping condition but the manner of death couldn’t be determined.
Kyler was alive for 72 days.
But he wasn’t the only baby to die that month of April in 2014.
APTN News has learned Kyler was one of at least four babies to die between Oct. 29, 2013 and June 6, 2014 either under the direct care of Dilico or with the involvement of the Indigenous child welfare agency based in Fort William First Nation next to Thunder Bay.
APTN’s investigation into these deaths discovered several more themes, including unsafe sleeping conditions in foster care.
Talon Nelson died in foster care Oct. 29, 2013 when he was less than three months old.
“The circumstances indicate that an unsafe sleeping environment and/or position may have contributed to the death,” the coroner wrote according to a statement of claim filed by Nelson’s family in Thunder Bay in 2016. “The home appeared crowded with beds and/or cribs. The crib in question had the baby in a sleeper with two blankets over it. There were numerous toys in the crib with the baby.”
The family blamed Dilico for the death which the agency denied in court. The civil suit was eventually dismissed without costs and the allegations were never proven in court. APTN tried to reach the family and their lawyer but was unsuccessful.
More court records obtained by APTN uncovered another death of an infant in April 2014 around the same time as Kyler.
It involves the alleged wrongful dismissal of an employee who sued Dilico about three weeks after she was fired on Nov. 4, 2014.
Lori Watts alleged she was fired after coming back from medical leave for surgery to reduce the impact of Parkinson’s disease.
Watts was the assistant director of support services when she was let go after working at Dilico since 1993.
Her role put her in charge of various “alternative” care services, which includes foster homes that Dilico owns and operates.
She also was in charge of a six-bed group home operated by Dilico.
Dilico denied the allegations and said her firing was for cause, particularly after a child at the group home was seriously injured. They accused Watts of not immediately reporting the incident to her boss or the Ontario government, a requirement under law.
An internal investigation found “serious signs of mismanagement at the group home, including but not limited to drugs, and other prohibited items including drug paraphernalia and a pellet gun being discovered in the group home.”
Dilico blamed Watts, who was a mid-level manager.
“This failure to report to the Ministry, and the presence of drugs and prohibited items at the group home, exposed the Defendant (Dilico) to significant liability, including fines, a risk that the Defendant’s Group Home Licence would be revoked, and a risk that the Defendant could lose its approval or designation to act as a child welfare agency,” Dilico said in its statement of defence.
They also blamed her for failing to take action on “12 deficient group homes identified as needing to be addressed” and for not coming up with a plan to open new foster homes despite there being a need.
Then a baby died.
“In or about April 2014, an infant died while at one of the Defendant’s foster homes under the Plaintiff’s supervision,” said Dilico, which didn’t add anything beyond that regarding the death.
The identify of the child isn’t known to APTN, however it’s not believed to be Kyler as Dilico placed him with his non-Indigenous father at the time of his death.
According to the coroner’s report, the father put Kyler on a cluttered adult bed and left him there to have a shower. Kyler was found 30 minutes later by his grandmother. Police reported the home to be cluttered but otherwise unremarkable.
No further action was taken by the coroner.
(Breanne LeClair with her son Kyler. Submitted photo)
Kyler’s file also didn’t involve Watts but two other workers, including former manager Diane Rusnak – creating more similarities.
APTN previously reported Rusnak is suing Dilico for wrongful dismissal in late 2016 but in court filings Dilico accused Rusnak of placing a child in a home with a registered sex offender. The child began displaying “sexualized behaviours inconsistent with that child’s age” during a “routine” visit in the fall of 2016.
Like with Watts, Dilico was blaming a single employee for a serious incident that would have involved many people.
But the agency did find Rusnak was only partly to blame for a death that happened while she was the manager in charge.
Dilico said Rusnak was placed on administrative leave May 8, 2014 while Dilico investigated the death. She wasn’t fired but other employees were. APTN knows the identity of Kyler’s caseworker and that person now works somewhere else.
APTN has tried multiple times to reach Rusnak but her lawyer said she has no comment. APTN was unsuccessful in reaching Watts for comment. Her case was dismissed without costs and the allegations were never proven in court.
It’s because of that story on Rusnak that APTN learned the identities of Kyler and Daniel Issac Sabastein Quedent who died June 13, 2014.
Daniel was just over a year old when his mother said he was also found in a crowded crib when he died. She said the coroner ultimately ruled he died of a heart arrhythmia.
Michelle Quedent said he was in and out of care in his first year. Quedent also said Rusnak was one of two people to show up at her home to discuss the death of her son.
“I believe they called me first saying they were coming to talk to me. Then when they came Rusnak was so casual about it,” said Quedent. “She told me as soon as I opened the door.”
Quedent said she had a miscarriage in the weeks before Daniel’s death which she blames on stress of him being taken.
“He was a cute kiddo.Very outgoing and very happy. Made everyone smile even the grumpiest of people,” said Quedent.
(Daniel Issac Sabastein Quedent died June 13, 2014)
APTN laid out in an email much of the main points in this story to Dilico’s executive director, Darcia Borg.
One of the areas APTN wanted addressed is the agency shifted its focus of care away from temporary care agreements to customary care agreements, the latter believed to be more culturally-based with the involvement of the First Nation.
This change happened around 2013.
Former employees told APTN when this shift happened there was a lot of turmoil inside in Dilico which may account for the several wrongful dismissal claims filed in court soon after.
“We are unable to comment or provide any further information beyond that which is publicly available, and already in your possession,” wrote Borg in an email Wednesday evening. “Providing any further information would violate our legal obligations to protect the privacy of current and former employees, and of children in the care of the agency.”
Borg made these comments after inviting APTN to meet with her at a later date in Thunder Bay.
Dilico has offices in Thunder Bay and surrounding area that serves several First Nations.
APTN continues to follow each of the deaths and other related stories. Kenneth Jackson can be reached at the email below or by calling 613-567-1550, ext. 226. Also look for Jackson on Facebook and Twitter.