Ontario family files suit against child services agency in death of four-yr-old girl

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Jennifer Viater wants to ensure no other family suffers the way she has.

The Vaughan, Ont., resident says her life has been a nightmare ever since her four-year-old daughter was found dead under suspicious circumstances nearly a year and a half ago.

Keira Kagan’s body was found at the base of a cliff, next to her father’s, in a conservation area in Milton, Ont., on Feb. 9, 2020. The pair had gone for a hike at Rattlesnake Point on a cold winter day with heavy snow in the forecast.

Viater has alleged her daughter died in a murder-suicide carried out by the girl’s father following increasingly violent behaviour on his part during a prolonged custody battle.

She’s now filed a $16-million lawsuit against Jewish Family and Child Services, alleging case workers knew Keira was at risk of being harmed by her father but didn’t act quickly enough to prevent her death.

“Keira died a horrible, violent death,” Viater said in an interview. “This should not happen to any other child or family.”

Jewish Family and Child Services’s CEO Talyah Breslin said she could not comment due to confidentiality reasons on the lawsuit, which also names the estate of Keira’s father, Robin Brown, and others, as defendants.

Viater and Brown married in November 2013. Keira was born on May 29, 2015.

Viater alleges in her untested statement of claim that Brown sexually, physically and mentally abused her over a prolonged period of time.

The pair separated in February 2016. In July that year, the family went to a doctor’s appointment where Brown ran away with his daughter, the claim states.

“Robin Brown refused to give Jennifer any access to Keira for 8 days, thus requiring court intervention, who then made adverse findings against Robin Brown.”

Brown absconded with Keira several other times, the claim states.

On one occasion in April 2019, Brown refused to return Keira to Viater. Police were called but he refused to let them into his home, the lawsuit states.

That’s when the Jewish Family and Child Services got involved.

“On June 12, 2019, JF&CS concluded that Keira was at risk of emotional harm due to ongoing post-separation conflict,” the claim reads.

In mid-January 2020, Brown and his partner filed a false claim that Keira’s stepfather was abusing her, Viater’s lawsuit states.

Viater and her husband filed an emergency motion against Brown later that month “due to his escalating behaviour,” asking that his access be suspended or supervised.

A judge decided the motion was not urgent because the Jewish Child and Family Services “is conducting an investigation and have eyes and ears on the ground” and can request urgent relief at any point, the claim noted.

The judge put the case over to Feb. 20, 2020, a day Keira wouldn’t live to see.

A case worker from the Jewish Child and Family Services interviewed several people as part of her investigation, according to the lawsuit, including Keira’s psychologist.

“Keira’s psychologist expressed significant concern that Robin Brown was trying to cause division between Keira and Jennifer and (her stepfather),” the claim said.

The Viaters told the case worker Keira came back from visits with Brown calling her mother a liar and saying “dad said you don’t love me.” After visits with her father, Keira would hit her head on the floor or wall and punch herself in the chest, the claim said.

The case worker “knew that Keira was a child in need of protection and failed to act to protect her,” Viater’s claim alleges.

Early in February, Brown received documents containing the observations of the case worker.

“Given that he was to return to court shortly to determine if his access would be suspended or supervised, JF&CS knew or ought to have known that this could have been a triggering point for Robin Brown to harm or kill Keira,” the claim alleged.

On Feb. 6, 2020, the case worker interviewed Brown. She said he was “agitated from the meeting,” Viater’s claim noted, adding that Brown again refused to release Keira back to her mother that day following a visit.

Three days later, Brown took Keira to Rattlesnake Point, where their bodies were found.

A coroner’s report noted Keira died of blunt force trauma to the head and referred the case to its domestic violence death review committee, Viater said. Halton police “identified multiple risk factors for domestic violence in Keira’s father,” Viater said, but officers were unable to determine what led to the last moments of their lives.

For Viater, daily life is now a struggle. She misses her daughter’s playful smile and mourns not being able to see her grow.

“I miss comforting her,” Viater said, “and having her head melt into my shoulder.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press