Parents of drowned boy with autism suing Saskatoon Public Schools, City of Saskatoon
Editor’s note: Global News has updated this copy to make it more clear lawsuit allegations have not been proven in court.
The parents of a five-year-old boy with autism who drowned in a pond near Dundonald School are suing the Saskatoon Public School Division and City of Saskatoon for negligence in their son’s Sept. 11, 2017, death.
Hussein Elmmi and Fathiya Nour moved to Saskatoon from Prince Albert in the summer of 2017 with their son, Ahmed Elmmi, because they believed he would receive better programming and aid at École Dundonald School.
*DISCLAIMER: NONE OF THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE STATEMENT OF CLAIM HAVE BEEN PROVEN IN COURT.*
A statement of claim, filed on behalf of Elmmi and Nour by their attorney Tony Merchant, says the Saskatoon Public School Division and Dundonald staff were informed of Ahmed’s needs by the parents, his former pre-school teacher Colleen Boyer as well as the family physician.
Ahmed had special needs due to his autism diagnosis and had a tendency to run away without looking for danger if not properly supervised. Numerous documents in the statement of claim back up this behaviour pattern.
Nour and Boyer had multiple phone calls and meetings with Dundonald School special education teacher Trisha Demmans between June 28 and Sept. 6, 2017.
The claim goes on to say the Saskatoon Public School staff repeatedly reassured Ahmed’s parents he would be supervised according to his needs.
On Sept. 11, Ahmed ran away from an educational assistant who had been holding his hand. He was found drowned in what is described as a slough or storm water retention pond in a city park within 100 metres of Dundonald School.
The statement of claim alleges Saskatoon Public Schools showed negligence by failing to fulfill their duty under The Education Act to provide satisfactory safety standards. The statement goes on to say the school division breached the trust of the parents by allowing Ahmed to die of preventable circumstances.
Saskatoon Public Schools officials hadn’t received the statement of claim as of Tuesday morning, according to Barry MacDougall, director of education for the division.
“When it is received, that will be something that our legal counsel will work on,” MacDougall said.
He noted Saskatoon Public Schools has been more focused on completing its own report and awaiting the results of reports from the coroner’s office and the Saskatchewan advocate for children and youth.
In negligence allegations against the City of Saskatoon, the lack of fencing, warning signage about depth, or grading of the banks at the retention pond is an issue.
The statement reads that the city ought to be aware the park is frequented by children and the retention pond is inadequately secured against children entering it.
The statement of claim references a number of released and upcoming reviews of this matter.
Saskatchewan’s children’s advocate has examined what transpired and will table his report in the Saskatchewan legislature on March 27.
Saskatoon Public Schools released a report on areas of fault on March 23.
The City of Saskatoon is already implementing the coroner’s recommendations to make the city property safer. This includes better enacting better safety measures in storm retention ponds, especially near schools.
“The city extends its condolences to the Elmmi family. We are aware of the statement of claim filed today at the Court of Queen’s Bench. We will carefully review and consider the statement of claim and respond in due course,” Saskatoon city solicitor Patricia Warwick said in a statement.
The City of Saskatoon adds that they are already working on implementing recommendations outlined in the coroner’s investigation. This includes better enacting better safety measures in storm retention ponds, especially near schools.
“At Dundonald pond we are recommending that a 1.2 metre rod-iron fence be installed on the west and north side of the pond and this is essentially to separate the activities of the schools, the public use of the ponds and the pathways,” Angela Gardiner, the acting general manager of transportation and utilities with the city, said March 21.
The recommendations that will be presented to city council will first go to the city’s standing committee on environment utilities and corporate services on April 16.
The Saskatoon Police Service investigated Ahmed’s death and determined no charges would be laid. The office of the chief coroner determined Ahmed’s cause of death was an accidental drowning. A coroner’s inquest is not being ordered.
With files from Global’s Ryan Kessler
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