CAS pressed defendant to relinquish custody of daughters, murder trial told

Christie Blatchford

Barrie, Ont. — From Thursday's Globe and Mail

A hospital social worker and representatives from two children’s aid agencies were so concerned about Elaine Campione’s ability to look after her little daughters that they had her sign over temporary custody of them to her mother.

This was in October of 2005, almost a year before Ms. Campione drowned three-year-old Serena and 19-month-old Sophia in the family bathtub.

The revelation came Wednesday from Ms. Campione’s mother, Faye Goodine, who was testifying for the second day at her daughter’s double murder trial here.

Ms. Campione’s lawyer has told the Ontario Superior Court jury and Mr. Justice Alfred Stong that Ms. Campione drowned the little girls, but is claiming she isn’t criminally responsible because of an as-yet-unspecified mental illness.

Ms. Goodine said she was about to return to Gaspereau Forks, N.B., where she lives with her husband, and Ms. Campione’s father, Albert.

She had already spent that September in Ontario, caring for the girls and ferrying her distraught daughter about, and had returned to New Brunswick once before – only to fly back three days later when Ms. Campione ended up at the William Osler Health Centre (the corporation operates three facilities, and which one hasn’t been identified for the jury yet) as a psychiatric patient.

But by Oct. 12, Ms. Goodine was worn out by Ms. Campione, who can be most kindly described as profoundly needy.

She had visited her in hospital every day, brought the girls for a visit with their paternal grandparents and taken Ms. Campione to them on a weekend pass (where, she said, her daughter still seemed disengaged from the kids), but was disheartened by her on-again, off-again willingness to reconcile with her allegedly abusive ex. So she booked a flight back to New Brunswick and came to see Ms. Campione and say goodbye.

But by the time she arrived, the Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County and the York CAS “had been talking each other” and a hospital social worker, she said.

Essentially, she was told if Ms. Campione was to be released from hospital and keep custody of Serena and Sophia, she had to sign an agreement granting temporary custody to Ms. Goodine, which meant Ms. Goodine, of course, had to be willing to stay in Ontario and care for the girls.

She phoned Albert and told him her plans had changed.

The agreement, on William Osler stationery, was signed Oct. 12, 2005, and is now a court exhibit. But as Ms. Goodine described it, it was arranged at the insistence of workers from all three agencies.

Over the ensuing weeks, Ms. Campione continued on the same erratic path – one minute claiming to be afraid of her ex, the next wanting to have dinner with him; one minute demanding her mother tell her she loved her and that she had been a wanted baby, the next asking why they had been so poor and suggesting “I should have got off my fat ass and gone to work,” and in the one after that, accusing her of being in cahoots “with the CAS to get the children” from her.

Ms. Goodine, exhausted, had finally had enough. She phoned her daughter’s CAS worker to “get permission, the CAS had to say it was all right for me to go.”

Ms. Goodine made one phone call; two days later, she flew home.

In April, she learned Ms. Campione had “checked herself into hospital [this time, in Barrie] for a break,” and the little girls were in foster care.

Ms. Campione blamed her, of course, saying the kids were in care “because I did not come up to Barrie … she wanted me to come up and look after the children, but I didn’t go.” She and Mr. Goodine were upset, and believed their daughter was trying to manipulate them, was trying to force her mum to return to Ontario. “We didn’t think the children were in any danger,” Ms. Goodine said.

She had been fighting tears for hours. Now she lost her composure, face crumpling and reddening.

This day in mint green pants and sweater as she had been the day before in a mauve ensemble, a nice small-town woman in her going-to-court kit, Ms. Goodine was utterly overcome in the witness box.

The strain of two days in the stand was obvious; distress was evident, and sorrow. If there was guilt there, it was misplaced. That is not this mother’s cross to bear – the helping professionals, whose dirty fingerprints are all over this file, perhaps; her daughter, certainly, for it was she who held two small heads under water until the bubbles stopped, though her responsibility is for the jurors to decide.

As her mother came undone, Ms. Campione, mere feet away in the prisoner’s box, was unmoved. There was the hint of a hint of something – it looked like amusement, but surely could not have been – on her narrow face.

Ms. Goodine was gently led, sobbing, from the courtroom, a recess, then an early end to the day, called.

As the door swung open, her howls of anguish blew in; Ms. Campione did not even turn her head toward the sound.