Dogged Investigator Helps Rescue Child

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 3:16 p.m. March 11, 2019

A seasoned investigator, who helped rescue a child from an extreme case of child abuse, is the recipient of the William Bishop Award.

A man in TPS uniform with a woman and another man holding a plaque
Chief Mark Saunders and Elaine Cernowski present the William Bishop Award to D/Const. George Maxwell for a child abuse investigation

D/Const. George Maxwell was presented with the award that recognizes investigative excellence at a ceremony hosted by Detective Operations on March 5.

Chief Mark Saunders joined Elaine Cernowski – Bishop’s daughter -- in making the presentation.

“Anyone that’s had the opportunity of working with George would know it was only a matter of time before he received such recognition for this type of work,” said Saunders. “I have had that opportunity and I have seen him when it comes to his intuitiveness, knowledge and investigative savvy. This is just a small recognition for who he is and the work he does… When you come on this job, you realize you want to help people because that’s what we do most of the time. There are different ways in which that help is manifested and this is an example where this help saved a life, that of a very young boy.”

In March 2016, a man and woman took their five-year-old son to the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC).

They claimed that he seemed fine after falling down some stairs at their residence two days earlier. His mobility, they said, decreased 24 hours later and he couldn’t get out bed or walk.

The physician’s initial examination revealed the child had a swollen stomach, he wasn’t able to straighten his legs without the assistance of doctors and he was noticeably underweight.

He weighed 25 lbs. which is in the 50th percentile for a five-year-old.

Medical specialists advised that the child’s severe injuries were less likely as a result of traumatic injury and more likely a bone disorder due to significant and long-term malnutrition. At the time, his condition bordered on fatal due to the likelihood that his heart would have gone into arrhythmia which is consistent with calcium deprivation.

X-rays revealed that the child had several bone fractures in his body.

Given the incongruous nature of the parents’ account and the child’s substantial injuries, the Suspected Child Abuse & Neglect Unit and the Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) were notified and Maxwell was assigned as the officer in charge of the joint investigation with the Children’s Aid Society.

Toronto Police is a partner of CYAC which was launched in 2013.

Police investigate physical assaults, emotional abuse or neglect occurrences when the victim is under 16 and the suspect is a caregiver, parent or person in a position of trust or authority, or when the suspect is known and the offences are not within the mandate of the Sex Crimes investigative office; and occurrences entitled “Child in Need of Protection” or “Child Left Unattended.”

Through video interviews with the child’s parents, it was clear to Maxwell that they were anti-institutional.

“The parents willfully ceased to visit a pediatrician for the child after birth and this led to a lack of vaccinations and medical check-ups,” he said. “OHIP records confirmed this and the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), having apprehended the child for safety, facilitated access to what little medical documentation was available for investigative purposes.”

Maxwell discovered that other than one meeting with a naturopath, the boy didn’t have any medical attention since birth.

“Further, the boy had little contact with society and he had been home-schooled by his parents who implemented a strict vegan diet which ultimately led to the boy’s extensive malnutrition-related injuries,” he said.

Maxwell executed a search warrant at the parents’ residence to verify their claim that the boy had fallen down some stairs and gather evidence that could assist medical staff in re-tracing the absent years in the boy’s medical history. He also canvassed neighbours and interviewed the parents’ extended family.

“It became apparent that the boy was socially isolated,” said D/Sgt. Greg Payne who nominated Maxwell. “He had not been seen by family or neighbours and had not taken part in any community schooling for many years.”

While liaising with HSC nutrition, behavioural psychology and paediatric endocrinology specialists, Maxwell learned from the endocrinologist who specialized in third world nutrition, that the boy was in poor health.

“This specialist advised that he was in worse condition that anything he had previously treated,” said Payne. “The doctor also concluded that he would not have been able to fall down stairs, let alone put any body weight on his limbs.”

It was medically concluded that lack of care and sparse died contributed to the boy’s injuries.

In June 2016, the parents were arrested and charged with Failing to Provide Necessaries of Life and Criminal Negligence Causing Bodily Harm.

For two years, Maxwell worked with the partnerships at the CYAC as the legal process took its coutrse.

“The parents elected to self-represent and stall legal proceedings with what would best be described as a ‘Freemen of the Land’ approach,” said Payne. “George also appropriately dealt with security concerns at the respective courthouses as, at various appearances, the accused or small group of supporters had the potential to disrupt proceedings with outbursts. This was consistent with their anti-establishment societal views and radical nutritional choices they subjected their son to.”

Arrest warrants were issued for the parents who failed to attend court.

The father was apprehended on December 2016 and his wife two months later.

In May 2017, the boy – who spent three months at HSC – was formally made a Crown Ward and he’s awaiting adoption.

Though a bit bow-legged, the boy is strong enough to walk, run and play as any 8-year-old should.

“Sadly, there is continued medical concern that his cognitive deficits may persist due to the effects of the long-term malnutrition he was subjected to by his parents,” Maxwell pointed out. “However, he has added many words to his vocabulary and is otherwise thriving.”

Payne said Maxwell’s dedication and perseverance were evident throughout the investigation despite numerous challenging circumstances.

“His diligence will contribute greatly towards the victim’s recovery and the opportunity to develop into a thriving member of our community,” Payne added.

Maxwell, who joined the Service two decades ago, said the abuse of the little boy isn’t an isolated case.

“They are all bad,” he said. “When things like this make it to the court due to the subject matter, there’s very often a publication ban which is why you don’t hear some of the stories.”

Now assigned to the Homicide, Maxwell was with the CYAC since its inception up until last year.

“To be an investigator there, the subject matter is not for everybody,” he said. “It takes a certain personality-type to have an open mind and conduct investigations because the subject matter is so emotionally charged for family members and police officers. It helps though when you are a parent and you bring the life experience as an investigator. It’s not the only defining thing, but it does help add balance. There is a certain amount of compassion that’s involved.”

The Bishop Award was established 25 years ago by the retired Superintendent and his family, with the support of then Deputy Chief David Boothby.

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