Minister to reveal information on death of boy at commune

Jamie Ballem says he will table details in legislature Friday that will shed light on 12-year-old's death

Charlottetown (Canada)/November 28, 2002
By Ron Ryder

Responding to family demands and persistent Opposition questions, Health Minister Jamie Ballem is promising to table information about the death of a boy at a controversial commune.

Speaking to reporters in the legislature hallway on Wednesday, Ballem said he will be presenting information in the house Friday morning that he promised would shed light on the 1999 death of a 12-year-old boy at the commune led by Lucille Poulin.

"We're in the process of getting the necessary clearances, and if we get those in place, then I'll be making a statement on Friday," he said.

In the legislature Wednesday, Liberal Leader Ron MacKinley tabled a letter sent to him by the siblings of a young commune resident who died in December 1999 at the IWK hospital in Halifax . The boy, who cannot be identified under court order, reportedly suffered from a blood disorder and died of what has been called only "natural causes."

The letter complains that they have "run into brick walls" in their efforts to find out why their brother died.

"We believe there should be a full inquest and inquiry into the death of (our brother) including why the Department of Social Services could not protect the children at the commune," it states.

"We have received quite a bit of confidential information but the provincial government is not willing to follow up on any of the information we provide them."

An autopsy performed in Nova Scotia found nothing unusual about the child's death, according to Attorney General Jeff Lantz.

This fall, Poulin was tried on five charges of assault that stemmed from the use of a wooden rod to regularly beat children living at the commune. Court heard that Poulin, a former nun who led the religious group, kept the children isolated from the outside world and instructed the men of the sect to administer beatings to the children for a range of infractions.

The group, which included a family with several children, moved to P.E.I. in 1995 while they were still subject to a court order from Alberta .

The group's religious faith led it to forbid any blood transfusions for the ailing boy.

Poulin was convicted and sent to jail for eight months. Two children from the commune have been placed in the permanent custody of P.E.I.'s director of child welfare.

MacKinley used most of question period to press Ballem for a public inquiry into the circumstances of the boy's death.

He questioned how the beatings could have continued over such a long time when the commune had arrived on the Island already under suspicion.

"Did your department know that children were regularly beaten with the rod and what did you do about it, Mr. Minister?" MacKinley asked.

Ballem defended his department's handling of the case. He said social services workers followed up on the Alberta court order and kept an eye on the commune.

"There was a feeling that you just can't go in without any evidence and say we want a court order that allows us to investigate," he said. "The situation was monitored. Where do you think the criminal charges came from?"

Lantz said the parents of the deceased boy, the mother at the commune and the father through his lawyer in Alberta, were given copies of the autopsy report.

He said the province offered to set up a meeting so the parents and siblings could talk with officials from the IWK and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

He said the family seemed satisfied at the time with the autopsy reports.

"We had no response from them after that," Lantz said.

He said he wasn't sure if government would be able to release autopsy results to the siblings with the parents being involved.

"Normally we deal strictly with the next of kin," Lantz said. "In the case of a request from brothers and sisters, we would have to look into that."

Outside the legislature, MacKinley said he thinks the real facts of the boy's death and the events around it will only come out with a public inquiry.

"I know there are people who want to talk but are afraid to," he said. "An inquiry would give them protection. I'll wait to see what he brings in Friday and then we'll see if that answers people's questions."

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