Inquiry into disabled girl's death draws emotions

EDMONTON -- The fatality inquiry into the death of a severely disabled 13-year-old girl is so emotionally charged it drew placard-carrying activists all the way from Ontario to an Edmonton courtroom Monday.
"We're here for Samantha," said Linda Plourde of Protecting Canadian Children, a group that advocates for kids who are wards of the state. "Her story is all over the Internet."
Somehow, Plourde and Margaret Steiss managed to carry several placards and banners with Samantha Martin's picture into the courtroom before sheriffs ordered the women to take them out of the building.
"Why aren't you protecting the children?" Plourde demanded of the sheriffs.
Samantha Martin died in Dec. 2006, of cardiac arrest. It was six months after she moved back into her St. Albert, Alta., parents' home following more than a decade in foster care.
She had a rare genetic disorder called Tetrasomy 18p, which left her mentally and physically disabled. She lived in a foster home that specialized in children with disabilities not far from St. Albert.
Samantha's parents, John and Velvet Martin, are convinced that her time in foster care contributed to her death.
"Our daughter was ill-treated," Velvet told the inquiry. "There were things going on with our daughter that were not good."
No criminal charges were ever laid in connection with Samantha's death, and an internal review by children's services in 2007 concluded there was no link between the foster system and the tragedy.
Since then, Velvet pushed for a public fatality inquiry. They do not look for blame, but examine the circumstances surrounding a death to see if there's anything that can done to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Velvet said shortly after Samantha died she found documents showing the foster home -- which cannot be identified under the law -- had been investigated for something not connected to her daughter.
She also said she found that the school had several "incident reports" about Samantha, but their details were not revealed Monday.
Velvet also accused Samantha's caseworker with children's services of failing to keep proper records, describing the child's file as "skeletal."
She said the foster family ignored concerns from the school that Samantha was having frequent tiny seizures.
Velvet testified that when it was clear shortly after Samantha was born that she was severely disabled, social workers urged the Martins give their child over to foster care.
They were told that if Samantha was in care she'd get full access to programming she needed, which they would have to pay for themselves if she lived with them.
They signed a voluntary "permanent guardianship agreement" -- an order they could have cancelled with 10-days notice, but Velvet said, "We thought (if we did that), Samantha wouldn't get what she needed."
In 2005, children's services was reorganized and Samantha's file was transferred to another office, Velvet said.
"They said, 'Oh my God, this is a mess.' We don't know what to do with you.'"
She was told the permanent guardianship agreement had been done away with previously, and it "doesn't exist under law," but no one had told them.
Velvet continues to testify Tuesday, when she's expected to be cross-examined by lawyers for the foster family and children's services. The inquiry is expected to last three weeks.