Family denied access to infant death review

Doreen Olson’s phone rang at 9:30 a.m. on May 4. The conversation brought her to tears. A social worker phoned the elderly Dawson City…

Doreen Olson’s phone rang at 9:30 a.m. on May 4.

The conversation brought her to tears.

A social worker phoned the elderly Dawson City resident to tell her that, within the span of a few hours, a report probing a dark chapter in her family’s life would be released to the public.

“They did not come to me,” said Olson.

“Nothing came before me about what they were doing.”

This report, that Olson knew nothing about, was the much publicized review of Samara Olson’s death in August 2004.

The infant girl was beaten to death by her young mother, Justina Ellis, in Dawson.

Olson is Samara’s paternal grandmother.

During that morning phone call, a Health and Social Services worker promised to have the report to Olson before it hit the media.

“I was supposed to be the first one with the report,” said Olson in an interview at The News.

“They told me that they’re going to bring me a copy that day.”

But no one delivered the report.

Yukon media and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in band office had copies of the highly censored report before Olson did, she said.

When she confronted workers about why a copy wasn’t delivered, they apologized.

“There’s no such word as ‘I’m sorry,’” Olson said she told them.

“You guys made a promise, and you lied to me again.”

There’s no room for un-kept promises when the issue is a child’s death, said Olson.

“I don’t want their sympathy.”

And when Olson did receive the report, she was handed the same version as the public — 19 pages of a 112-page report.

“I have asked for the rest of the file,” she said.

“I was turned down.”

The review delves into how government workers handled Ellis’ case. It concludes that holes in the system, like poor communication between departments, inadequate risk assessments, and the lack of a policy for high-risk families, contributed to the child’s death.

Even immediate family cannot access the censored pages of the report, said Olson.

She was told it was “confidential information” under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“What I wanted the file for was healing,” she said, looking out the window.

“We could go through it, talk about it, heal from that file.”

Her family and the community need to understand what went wrong to find a way to move forward.

But the government is not being open with Olson.

“(It) is hiding behind the wall,” she said.

“They can’t come out with the truth.”

It wasn’t until she read the paper that Olson realized the report had been in government hands for months — since February.

They should have let the family know then, she said.

The intervening months would have given her and her son time to prepare themselves for the renewed public attention.

“We’d be ready,” she said.

 “The pain came back again. It was reopened again.”

Olson has forgiven Ellis. The troubled young woman needs healing not anger, she said.

Currently serving a six-year sentence in a federal penitentiary, Ellis suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and psychological disorders.

She has long struggled with drug and alcohol addictions and has a history of violence and abuse.

“When my band came before me and asked me what I want, I told them I only wanted no anger or hate about this. I only want to see them heal themselves,” said Olson.

But Ellis had been in a similar situation before, she said.

Having gone through circle sentencing for a brutal assault on her first child, Olson wonders why Ellis was released then.

“Why did they let her go when she wasn’t healed?” said Olson.

The answers to most of these questions could be very simple, she added.

All the government needs to do is “be truthful and honest.”

After years of interactions with social services, however, Olson has lost faith.

“I walk through life and I see and I hear and I watch,” she said.

“I don’t like what the government is doing.”

It’s time for a new approach, she said.

“I would like to see the First Nations take over their own child programs.”

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