Guilty until proven innocent

Pam Frampton
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The Weekend Telegram front page

Part 1 in a three-part series.

Like any loving parent, when Sharon (not her real name) checked on her baby and found her lethargic, she called 911 and rushed her to the Janeway Children’s Hospital.

The five-month old had been crying and fussy that afternoon.

The child was examined at the hospital and then treated for infection. On Day 2, tests revealed bleeding on the brain and behind the retinas of her eyes.

“The doctor asked if she’d had any accidents. Did she fall off the bed?” Sharon said.

“Then the RNC and Child Protection showed up.”

One week later, the child was in protective custody in the hospital.

“Little did I know that all the guns were pointed at me at the time,” Sharon told The Telegram in a recent wide-ranging interview, where she was accompanied by family members.

“I was in shock. For two-and-a-half hours we were questioned by the RNC investigative unit and Child Protection. The whole family got interviewed — anyone who looked after her. … About a week later we were served with the papers that they were taking (the baby).”

Sharon said she knew she hadn’t hurt her child and she didn’t think anyone else had, either.

“I stuck with my gut instinct on that,” she said. “I brought her to the hospital because she was sick.”

A family member who helped advocate for Sharon interjects: “The theory is that you have a frustrated mother and a crying baby, and the mother snaps.”

“Her father and his family had her on the weekend and a few hours during the week. …,” Sharon said. “It wasn’t like I had her day and night with no help. … I had tons of help.”

Sharon was at her daughter’s bedside in the hospital night and day for more than three weeks. At one point she was called into another room, where two social workers and two RNC officers were waiting. That’s when she was served with papers telling her she was losing her daughter.

“I threw up,” she said.

Days later, police and social workers arrived again.

“They took her away,” she said, crying softly. She had no idea where her child was going.

It is the only time during the interview when she loses her composure.

“I wasn’t even told when I would be able to see her again.

“They recommended I get a lawyer. … I had barely heard of shaken baby syndrome at the time.”

It was guilt by association; the last person to have cared for the baby becomes the target of suspicion.

It is a story too often told.

• • •

Because of a medical condition, Sharon thought she would probably never have children. So when she found out she was pregnant in 2010 — even though the circumstances weren’t perfect — she was ecstatic.

She and the father of her child were not together at the time, but as a woman in her 30s who thought she’d never have the experience, she was surprised and pleased to be having a baby.

“I was really happy — I didn’t think I was going to have kids,” she said. “I was thrilled! I wasn’t very happy with my situation — we were broke up at the time. We tried to make it work, and even went for counselling, but it didn’t work out.”

Still, she was looking forward to parenthood. An educated, articulate woman with a professional career, she figured she was well equipped to care for her daughter.

Now, three years later, she is struggling to rebuild her life after going through psychological, emotional and financial hell.

Sharon’s pregnancy was difficult. By the 27-week stage, she had contracted pneumonia. The baby was breech, with its head tucked near Sharon’s rib cage. Sharon coughed violently for six weeks and required antibiotics and hospitalization. Eventually her daughter was delivered by C-section, five weeks prematurely.

The baby’s head was elongated and enlarged, and the fontanel — the soft spot between the bones of her skull — was bulging. For the next three months, she required occupational therapy to correct the shape of her head, which had grown 12 centimetres in four-and-a-half months — a rate of growth you would normally expect to see in a year.

“This was all recorded,” Sharon said, “but nothing was followed up on. They never went back and considered anything in her history. They looked forward from the day she was brought in (to the hospital). They never looked back.”

The fight to regain access to her child would cost Sharon dearly.

The stress of the situation meant she had to take medical leave from work. The staggering cost of her defence led to her declaring bankruptcy. She lost her house.

“It took a toll on the whole family,” she said. “I hit rock-bottom more than once, let me tell you.”

But Sharon had strong weapons in her arsenal. Among them: tenacity, courage and the truth.

Next week: The rocky road to justice

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor.

She can be reached by email at

Twitter: pam_frampton

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Recent comments

  • me
    October 04, 2013 - 16:41

    I am going through something like this now. I will tell you something that people don't know about CYFS if anything happenes to a child and they get involved you are guilty and that's the bottom line. They only need to prove "something happened" and that's all, they don't have to prove how it happened, when it happened, or who did it just "something happened".

  • Sue Luttner
    June 17, 2013 - 18:30

    Thank you for this sensitive treatment of a difficult topic. To answer one of the posted comments: Thousands of families have been wrongly accused of shaking their infants. Difficult as it is to believe if you haven't seen it yourself, doctors working with a flawed model of infant head injury have been over-diagnosing child abuse by shaking for 30 years and counting. I am so glad to see a story that seems to be heading toward exoneration. For the story of another family eventually cleared of shaking allegations, please see

  • malka
    June 16, 2013 - 00:24

    I renewed my CPR/First Aid certificate. I was told that ALL SIDS cases are treated primarily as homocides with the parents as the primary suspects. I went through something similar 21 yrs ago; I was not the last person to care for my son. The police lied on their report - I made a report to Internal Affairs about it and nothing was done. You need a tight family behind you, a good lawyer, facts, a good pediatrician. I did and still it was hell. However, I rarely discussed the problem outside of my circle because most people think that if you have nothing to hide, why not work with CPS? They are vipers that is why.

  • crista
    June 15, 2013 - 11:06

    What are they going to say it DO NOT go on???? and they can defend muskrat falls and make excuses for every thing the governments and not only the government does speak about it let them have a chance to speak about this and not only this article,let them have a press release about what has gone on and what gets done????this article seems to be as important as the the big deals and the hard taxpayers dollars???? or is this not an issue it has to do with justice and laws and rights and government services let them speak out and give them a chance to defend them selves????waiting on justice in part ????

  • Karen
    June 15, 2013 - 10:59

    Feel confident that there is another side t this story ! will your article interview both sides ? Can't understand why the entire system (hospital staff, CYFS and law enforcement) would be wanting or remove the child if they didn't feel the child was at risk.

  • M
    June 15, 2013 - 09:59

    To George - The RNC are doing the due diligence - and suing CYFS is not an easy task as their legislation allows them to violate families in the most awful of ways. Our experience with the RNC was a positive one in the end after a 4 month investigation - CYFS dragged it on for another 22 months with the same result as the RNC.

  • M
    June 15, 2013 - 09:54

    My family went through a similar situation in 2008. I learned quickly that there is no "innocent" in the eyes of CYFS. They tie the hands of the police and the courts with bullcrap legislation and a one-way line of communication. You are guilty until "less guilty". Heaven help you if you are a mother in the crosshairs! The "Shirley Turner Syndrome" is still rampant in the Department and workers are more often concerned with covering their butts than finding the truth. We watched the responsible party get away with it because CYFS was so narrow-minded. My family can sympathize with 'Sharon' - I suffer from PTSD and my family has never been the same.

  • saelcove
    June 15, 2013 - 09:41

    in the eyes of the police we are all guilty until proven innocent unless you are a cop then it,s innocent until proven guilty

  • Dave Adey
    June 15, 2013 - 08:56

    It really makes you wonder exactly how many other people go through the same thing? How many families are devastated and destroyed by a cold hearted system? Instead of seeking answers and helping this woman and her child, they instead proceed to tear her apart and turn her into a criminal. Every so often a story is presented to us from a few that are brave enough to speak up and desperate enough to seek help from the public. Her life is in ruins; baby is gone, financial ruination and mentally tortured. No doubt some family and friends are all that this woman has to hold to, to keep her sanity. Our justice system plays a game where they spin a wheel, if it stops on your name then you will be pursued and persecuted by the arms of this government until they have totally destroyed you. I hope some people get a good taste of karma.

  • Colleen Stamp
    June 15, 2013 - 08:38

    Pam, That article hit directly home to me, with the exact same thing happening to me. If it would be helpful, I could tell you my story also. I wonder if you are going to receive much feedback. Very good article.

  • George
    June 15, 2013 - 08:34

    Sue the RNC and Child Protection! Get all the money you need to get life in order again! This happens all to frequently and they need to learn and pay.