By Alex Consiglio and Jennifer Pagliaro
The Toronto Star
Samantha LeBlanc says she woke one morning this March to find her 2-year-old son on the couch “absolutely lethargic.” He wouldn’t get up.
LeBlanc and her friend Christine Allen – who LeBlanc was helping by letting her stay at her Kitchener, Ont. home – tended to little Decklyn. Allen, 32, checked his pulse and suggested she drive them to the hospital, LeBlanc said.
Decklyn went back to the hospital twice more. The second time he stayed a week as doctors treated the unknown ailment.
On Monday, after what police called a “lengthy” investigation, Allen – a mother of three and a former unlicensed daycare operator – was charged with two counts each of aggravated assault and administering a noxious substance.
Police say two different children – one who the Star has identified as LeBlanc’s – ingested an over-the-counter eye-care product that can cause abnormal drowsiness, low blood pressure and decreased heart rates.
“In my mind she was playing the hero, ” said LeBlanc, as she recalled how Allen tended to her son and drove them to the hospital. She said she’s known Allen for five years after the two met at a parenting group.
“It’s very shocking … I put a lot of trust in her.”
Following the death of a toddler at an unlicensed Vaughan daycare earlier this month, and a Star report on how the Ontario Ministry of Education is keeping complaints about those facilities secret, Monday’s arrest prompted one NDP MPP to reiterate the party’s calls for better oversight.
The Star has also learned that in a custody battle that saw a court deny her primary care of her children, Allen was accused by her former partner and father of her children of abusing prescription drugs.
Insp. Kevin Thaler of the Waterloo Regional Police said Allen was allegedly watching her friend’s child in March when the child became ill and was taken to hospital.
After the hospital contacted children and family services, police were called in to investigate, Thaler said. That investigation led police to an earlier case from July 2010, when another child left in Allen’s care was treated for similar symptoms.
Thaler said Allen ran a daycare between 2009 and 2011 in a neighbourhood called Pioneer Park, looking after an unknown number of children.
“We don’t know and I’m not sure that records will exist that tell us how many kids were there at any given time, so that’s why we’re appealing to the public, ” Thaler said. “She operated the daycare by word of mouth.”
At a Millwood Cres. home in Pioneer Park, the Star spoke to Richard Keilbar, Allen’s estranged common-law partner, and his wife Cassy. They confirmed they are currently caring for all three of Allen’s children in the same home where the daycare had previously been run.
“I’m not talking about it because it’s a sensitive issue and I don’t want the kids brought into it, ” Keilbar said. “For the children’s’ sake, I don’t want to discuss it.”
According to court documents from a custody battle in 2011, Allen took Keilbar to Waterloo family court to fight for custody and access as well as spousal and child support.
Instead the court ruled that Keilbar should have primary care and control of the children. Allen was granted joint custody and secondary care and control.
According to the claim submitted by Allen to the court, she and Keilbar had been in a relationship from 1999 and separated in October 2010 after “escalating arguments” about her unemployment. She claimed she was a daycare worker for four or five years out of the Millwood house.
Her claim also stated she suffers from psychological issues – including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder – for which she claimed to take medication “regularly.” She described having a “mental breakdown” in 1999.
But the claim made by Keilbar tells a different story. It said Allen was at times “out of control” and experienced “rages” when she was not taking her medication as prescribed. His claim also alleged Allen had a history of abusing prescription drugs, including Percocet and OxyContin.
Thaler said after Allen moved out of the Millwood Cres. home she did not resume daycare services.
“She moved on and didn’t reopen a daycare that we’re aware of, ” he said.
Thaler said police are not aware of Allen having a criminal record. Police say she has also given her last name as Keilbar.
On Monday, LeBlanc’s son was running around their front yard, smiling as he played with toys. “He’s a happy normal boy now, ” she said.
Kitchener-Waterloo NDP MPP Catherine Fife called Monday’s arrest “horrifying.”
“While I have full confidence that the Waterloo Regional Police will get to the bottom of this in their investigation, I am appalled at this government’s inability to protect the health, safety and well-being of our children in home daycares, ” Fife wrote.
Earlier this month, the party criticized the government for lacking oversight of unlicensed daycares. Fife reiterated the call to make complaints and safety violation records accessible after a Star report revealed those records are only available if a Freedom of Information request is filed.
Lauren Ramey, spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals, whose ministry oversees child care, said they are co-operating with the investigation, but could not comment further.
“We are aware of the serious allegations raised in regards to a child care provider in the Waterloo area, ” Ramey wrote in an email. “The ministry will co-operate with the police with their investigation, including reviewing our files to determine if any complaints were made to the Ministry of Education regarding this provider.”
Allen remains in custody and will appear in court on Wednesday.