Right Steps & Poui Trees


Electricity Disconnected at Walker’s Place of Safety Months Before the Fire

On March 22, 2019, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate for the following:

All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018, the death of the two girls as a result of that fire and any subsequent investigation into the fire or the resulting deaths.

After one extension of time, I received a number of documents last week Friday, May 17, 2019:

1) You will be granted access to copies of the following:
✓Letter from the Jamaica Public Service, regarding the account at 17 Lyndhurst Crescent, dated July 10, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Jamaica Fire Brigade Report dated April 5, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Electricity Division of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology dated March 15, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Emanuel Barosa, President and CEO of Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information dated July 4, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Ms. Jennifer Williams, Customer Service Manager at the Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information on the status of electricity on the premises prior to fire dated July 13, June 25 and March 14 2018 ;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Solomon Burchell, Director of Electricity at the Ministry of Science Energy and Technology dated July 18 and July 5, 2018;
✓ Letters from Mr. Downer to Inspector M. Anderson of the Half Way Tree Police Station regarding the police investigation, July 12, July 10 and July 6 2018;
✓Letter from Mr. Downer to Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police dated July 18, 2018;
✓ Letter from Mr. Downer to Mrs. Rosa-le Gage-Grey Chief Executive Officer, Child Protection and Family Services Agency regarding outstanding JPS bill balance and for the agency to clear that amount dated July 16, 2018;
✓Letter from Mrs. Diahann Gordon Harrison to Mr. Raymond Spencer, Commissioner. Jamaica Fire Brigade requesting a copy of the report dated February 1, 2018..

I was also told that all other documents had been denied:

2) You have been denied access to all other documents due to the nature of these documents and as they are exempt in accordance with Sections 17 and 22 of the ATI Act (2003) and Sections 44 and 45 of the CCPA (2004).

This morning I posted a thread on Twitter, sharing some of the questions and concerns raised by information in these additional documents:

Walker's Thread 20-5-19 1
Walker's Thread 20-5-19 2Walker's Thread 20-5-19 3walker's thread 20-5-19 4Walker's Thread 20-5-19 5Walker's thread 20-5-19 6Walker's thread 20-5-19 7Walker's thread 20-5-19 8Walker's thread 20-5-19 9Walker's thread 20-5-19 10Walker's thread 20-5-19 11Walker's thread 20-5-19 12Walker's thread 20-5-19 13Walker's thread 20-5-19 14Walker's thread 20-5-19 15Walker's thread 20-5-19 16Walker's thread 20-5-19 17Walker's thread 20-5-19 18Walker's thread 20-5-19 19Walker's thread 20-5-19 20There is obviously so much more to be learned about this tragic incident. I continue to use Access to Information requests to obtain more documents and I continue to hope that somewhere within the state’s agencies the full account is being compiled.

 

 

 

 

 

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Police Have Sent File on Walker’s Place of Safety Fire to the DPP

When news came of the fire that destroyed the Walker’s Place of Safety on January 16, 2018, resulting in the death of two girls, there was an outpouring of grief and concern from officials and members of the public. Offers of help were extended, commitments were made regarding care for the surviving children and donations were given for immediate needs and towards the rebuilding of the facility.

 

At the time, I could not help thinking of the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility on the night of May 22, 2009, which caused the death of seven girls and injury and trauma to numerous others. The subsequent Commission of Enquiry revealed specific information about the circumstances – horrifying and preventable – that led to the death of those children.

Assuming (hoping?) that lessons had been learned from that tragic event and loss of life, I expected that there would be the kind of thorough and detailed investigation and reporting that would indicate the specific circumstances that led to the death of the two children at Walker’s Place of Safety. I expected that there would be a full public accounting, so that we would know why these children’s lives had been lost, although the lives of so many others had been saved.

I did not hear in the public statements by officials the kind of details that would be needed and perhaps I didn’t expect it. I did, however, expect that in written format somewhere in the government agencies that level of investigation, reporting and accounting would exist. Reference was made in the media to a report by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA, formerly the CDA – Child Development Agency) and the fire report by the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I made Access to Information (ATI) requests for these documents, in the hopes that they would provide more of the type of information I was expecting to see. They didn’t.

(I wrote two blog posts about these reports – one on May 17, 2018 –

Walker’s Place of Safety Fire Brigade Report via Access to Information Request

and the other on September 29, 2018 –

Fire at Walker’s Place of Safety: More Information Needed

In the second post, I pointed out how little information is given about the circumstances leading to the death of the two children and the need for much more.)

The first anniversary of the fire came and went and on January 24, 2019, I made ATI requests to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) and to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) via the Ministry of National Security (MNS). There is a reason for having gone that route with my request to the JCF, but that’s for another time. The requests I made were as follows:

1. All documents giving an account of the specific circumstances surrounding the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018.
2. All documents regarding any investigation or inquiry into the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018, including any instructions for such investigation or inquiry to be carried out.
3. All documents related to any aspect of the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
4. All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
MNS acknowledged receipt of my requests that same day, but then I heard nothing further. I emailed again on February 27, 2019, pointing this out and the following day received this response from MNS:

“This is to inform that your request below was directed to the J.C.F. However, in initial communication with them they had maintained that the matter was being investigated and would in this instance could not be disclosed, this was communicated verbally. I did not want to pass on this information until documented information/confirmation was forwarded about same.

Notwithstanding the J.C.F has formally confirmed that an investigation was conducted on the matter and the file was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for ruling which is being awaited.

Consequently, based on the status of the matter the documents are exempted vide section 16 (b) of the Access to Information Act. Please be guided accordingly, thank you.”

Section 16(b) deals with one of the provisions for exemption of documents relating to law enforcement and reads as follows:ATI Act 16(b) exempt docs

I replied on the same day asking if I could get some document from the JCF indicating that the file had been referred to the DPP – a memo or cover letter for example, which mightn’t be exempt under the ATI Act.

On March 7, 2019, I received the following acknowledgement from MNS…

“I have requested the document/s that would indicate a referral of this matter to the DPP, I will be awaiting same. It will be forwarded when received. Thank you.”

…and on March 25, 2019, I received the following response:

“Please find attached correspondence substantiating that the matter of the Walker’s Place of Safety fire (case file) was referred to the Director of Public Prosecution by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Thank you.”

The documents attached were a handwritten certified copy of an entry in the Registry Correspondence Books and a typed copy of the same. An edited image of the typed copy, which is more legible, is shared here. ATI JCF Walker's POS case file correspondence 3-19 - cropped

A list of the names of the people whose statements were sent and a list of the pieces of evidence sent were included under the heading “File Contents”. I decided, however, not to include those in my post, which is why the image is edited. And I note that the document doesn’t actually indicate who the file was sent to. I also note that the file seems to have been sent on February 7, 2019, three weeks after the first anniversary of the fire and two weeks after I made my ATI request to the JCF.

I do not know what decision the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has made regarding the file…whether or not a decision has been made to prosecute anyone for a crime in regard to the fire or the death of the girls. I wait to hear.

The Armadale Commission of Enquiry and its subsequent report demonstrated the level of enquiry and reporting that should take place if a child dies in a fire in state care, the level of reporting owed to the child, to the family, to the nation. But does it require that a Commission of Enquiry be held to get that detailed accounting? What protocols were set in place after Armadale for the proper investigation of such tragic incidents? And who has the responsibility for such an investigation and reporting?

No-one could be satisfied with the CPFSA report or the Fire Brigade report.

I have been told by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information that they have no information in response to my request about the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety and the death of the two children, that all such information would be at CPFSA. I have made a request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate, which has asked for an extension of time to consider the request and have been told I will have a response by May 19.

Some weeks ago I went with a couple of others to the site of the Walker’s Place of Safety. There was nothing at the site that would clearly indicate to someone who didn’t know that that was where the facility had been located. The remains of the building have been removed and the site cleared. The type of bush that covers open lots has grown up quickly. There are remains of a play area to the front of the cleared lot and if you walk across the lot and look closely at the ground, you can see small pieces of charred wood sparsely scattered in the dirt. To one side of the lot, there is a tree that still shows signs of being badly burnt.

(Video credit: D. A. Bullock)

The events of that night may be indelibly seared in the memories of those who experienced it directly, of the survivors, of the families of those who died, of the people who helped to rescue children, of the officials who oversaw arrangements immediately afterwards. But just as evidence of what happened at that site is fading, the memory of what happened will fade too – from public consciousness and from the official record – if there is not written accounting to be relied on.

Imagine what would be publicly known or recorded about the tragedy at Armadale if there had been no Commission of Enquiry.

What happened that night at the Walker’s Place of Safety? What led to the death of the two children? Were their deaths preventable? Where is the accounting that would let us know?

 


OCA’s Investigative Report on CDA’s Removal of Children From Child Care Facility

In Parliament yesterday, the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s (OCA) “Report on Investigations into the Conduct of the Child Development Agency Concerning Wards of the State: Sunshine Child Care Facility” was tabled by Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna.

The report (see link below) details the OCA’s investigations, findings and recommendations regarding the Child Development Agency’s (CDA) removal of 34 children from a privately operated Place of Safety in February 2015. The children had all “been placed there at the instance of the Child Development Agency.”(p 3)

The investigation included a Hearing which resulted from the Children’s Advocate’s exercise of “her powers as a  Judge of the Supreme Court…pursuant to the provisions of the First Schedule to the Child Care and Protection Act.” (p 2) The issues to be determined were:

OCA report issues to be determined.PNG

The details given in the report describe a complete mishandling of the matter by the CDA, a disturbing disregard for the well-being and rights of Gordon Harrison RJR 1449626552NN_GORDON_HARRISONthe children and problematic responses on the part of some CDA personnel to the enquiries by the Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison.

One of the things that I found really troubling reading the report is that so many of the actions and attitudes described are not new. The specifics relate to a particular case, and having all occurred during this one case certainly merited focused investigation by the OCA and action regarding accountability and provisions for the affected children. But these types of actions and approaches by the CDA have been seen before, including:

  • failure to prepare children and child care facilities adequately for the removal/transfer of children from one facility/situation to another
  • transfer of children with no files or incomplete files
  • failure to advise child care facilities of medical/health conditions of incoming children, resulting in improper medical care, sometimes for serious/life-threatening conditions
  • transfer of children from one facility/situation to another resulting in disruption of their education
  • failure to provide/continue needed counselling for children being transferred from one facility/situation to another

The incidents involving the 34 children at one child care facility may serve to highlight general problems with approaches and practices within the CDA. However, one has to ask whether or not it is the first time that oversight mechanisms – within the CDA, at the level of the Ministry, at the level of the OCA – have picked up on such problems.

There is far more that needs to be questioned about the matters raised within the OCA’s report and about the functioning of the CDA, an agency that has experienced many problems since its inception. I will be interested to see what comes of the task force that has been announced by Minister Hanna and is due to report on certain aspects of the child care and protection systems in February next year.

(The report is on Parliament’s website or is available here: OCA Report re CDA Conduct – Sunshine Child Care Facility Nov 2015.)

OCA download on Parliament websiteOCA CDA report cover 12-15