Jeffrey Baldwin, dressed as Superman, was among his fellow children in spirit on Saturday, as hundreds gathered in Greenwood Park for the unveiling of a bronze statue and bench in the young abuse victim’s honour.
It was a scene quite unlike the sadness of his short life.
Twelve years ago, the 5-year-old Toronto boy died of starvation — he weighed only 21 pounds at his death — at the hands of his grandparents, Norman Kidman and Elva Bottineau. The pair were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
“There’s so much support and compassion for Jeffrey,” said an emotional Todd Boyce, the Ottawa father who spearheaded online fundraising efforts that raised more than $36,000 for the memorial. “So much that he didn’t have in his life, but he has it now.”
Jeffrey had been placed in the care of his grandparents by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. Both Kidman and Bottineau had separate convictions for assault on their own children, but the organization wasn’t aware of that until after Baldwin’s death.
Councillor Paula Fletcher (open Paula Fletcher’s policard), who represents the neighbourhood where Jeffrey lived, just a short distance from Greenwood Park, said the memorial will be part of the city’s public art collection.
“Whenever you’re skating, whenever you’re rollerblading, whenever you’re walking through, there’s a bench to sit on and just have a moment with Jeffrey in Greenwood Park,” she said.
Donors for Boyce’s memorial initiative came from within the local community and around the world — from as far as Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, Boyce said. “I think it’s a testament to the human spirit, really, that so many people, total strangers, were able to reach out and donate.”
In Saturday’s brisk autumn air, numerous children crowded around the sculpture and climbed atop the bench after the memorial was unveiled.
“I’m happy to see that Jeffrey’s going to be able to overlook the park for a very long time and see the children play,” said Boyce, his voice wavering.
Media reports after Jeffrey’s death struck a chord with Boyce, who has no direct connection to the young murder victim. Boyce said his 8-year-old son, Cole, shares Jeffrey’s birthday, Jan. 20.
“I can’t imagine my children suffering in any way close to what Jeffrey had to go through for so long,” Boyce said. “It just breaks my heart.”
Belynda Blyth, co-chair of Friends of Greenwood Park — a group that supported Boyce’s efforts to erect the memorial — said she carries “a weight” after living across the street from Jeffrey during part of his short life payday advance.
“I’m the kind of person that would’ve banged down that door and taken him away,” she said. “But I was completely unaware. I had no idea.”
While the artwork immortalizes Jeffrey, Boyce said it serves a dual purpose. “It’s also to remind people that child abuse does happen, and if they’re not vigilant reporting the signs of it, then this tragedy could repeat itself,” he explained.
The sculpture of Jeffrey, placed prominently in a main gathering point in the park, was designed by noted Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy.
She said the process of designing the sculpture, based on just a few photographs available of Jeffrey, took several months. It was then sent to a foundry to be encased in bronze on the bench.
“I wanted him to be eye level, to encounter the adults that pause for a moment. And then the kids standing on the bench can meet him at eye level as well,” Abernethy said. “One day they’ll be standing on the ground as adults, doing that face-to-face, recommitting to how hard it is to be a parent — and face-to-face with how much it matters. How much good parenting matters; there are no words.”
Jeffrey was, “for such a long time, made to feel unloved and worthless,” Boyce said. “That’s something no child should have to go through.”
The new bench and sculpture join an earlier memorial elsewhere in the park, which included a tree planted in Jeffrey’s honour. The original tree was broken, likely by vandals, last December, but a newer one stands in its place.
The statue’s design hit a roadblock earlier this year when DC initially refused to grant permission for usage of the Superman logo’s stylized S. Jeffrey Baldwin’s father, Richard Baldwin, told last year’s coroner’s inquest how his son was “so excited” to go as Superman for Halloween one year. DC later gave Boyce and Abernethy the green light to use the iconic crest.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has previously been criticized for not seeking standing at that 2013-2014 coroner’s inquest into Jeffrey’s death, despite the fact that it is ultimately responsible for investigating child abuse in Ontario.
The ministry recently redacted large sections of a document detailing how it planned to handle the fallout from that inquest, but the Star has appealed that decision to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
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