Driving to work in the early morning of September 1, 1994, city councillor Michael Thompson heard on the car radio the news of the gruesome discovery of the burnt body of a young girl found in a suitcase in York region.
“Over the years, the shocking story gnawed at me,” said Thompson. “It stayed with me until a couple of weeks ago when the police was able to put a name to that body. I thought she would not have been identified and the person(s) responsible for her death would not be brought to justice.”
In February, the remains were confirmed to be those of Melonie Biddersingh who was 17 at the time of her death. Last month, her father and stepmother were arrested in Welland and charged with first-degree murder.
Everton Biddersingh, 56, brought his daughter and two other siblings from Jamaica in 1990 to live with him and his family in Parkdale. In 1992, Melonie’s older brother, Dwayne, fell from a 22nd floor apartment balcony and his death was ruled a suicide.
Last week, Toronto city councillors unanimously voted on a motion by Thompson – seconded by Maria Augimeri – to figure what the city could do to prevent the abuse of immigrant children.
He’s calling for city council to request the city manager investigate the problem of abuse of immigrant children in Toronto and provide a report to council, including recommendations; improved co-ordination between the appropriate local, provincial and federal bodies to enhance the ability to monitor newly-arrived children and ensure their well-being; the creation of an early warning system to detect and act on immigrant child abuse and improved services that victims of immigrant child abuse can easily access.
“Melonie’s brother was in Canada for two years before he passed away and she was here for four years before she died, yet they were never registered in a school,” said Thompson. “If they were and they had showed up for classes with bruises and scars, the system would have kicked in…
“While our social services have improved over the years, many of the most vulnerable immigrant children continue to fall through the cracks.”
Thompson has been in contact with Biddersingh’s biological mother – Opal Austin – who wants to come to Toronto for the trial of the accused killers.
“The mom has some health issues, but she would like to be here,” Thompson said.
To assist with her travel, the Jamaican Consulate – in collaboration with the Jamaican Canadian Association – has set up an account at the Bank of Montreal. The account # is 24188064589.
Lawyer Courtney Betty is also administering a fund. Donations are accepted at all Royal Bank branches payable to the “Tragedy Fund”.
Biddersingh’s death is the latest in a string of shocking child fatalities involving young children brought from Jamaica by their biological fathers to live in Canada in a household with a stepmother.
Randal Dooley died in September 1998 of a brain injury likely caused by repeated shaking. The seven-year-old boy, who came to Canada from Jamaica to live with his father about a year before his death, was covered in bruises and weighed just 41 pounds. He was found with 13 fractured ribs, a damaged liver, four brain injuries and a tooth embedded in his stomach.
The trial judge described his death as one of the worst cases of child abuse in Canadian history. The young boy’s father, Troy Dooley, and stepmom, Marcia Dooley, were sentenced to life in prison in May 2002.
In June 2010, 15-year-old Tiffany Gayle’s lifeless body was found in her Brampton home. A post mortem revealed the Fletcher Meadow Secondary School Grade 10 student, who came from Jamaica to join her father, died from blunt force injuries.
Her dad, Frederick Gayle, and stepmother, Elizabeth Gayle, are facing second degree murder charges.
Brampton resident Garfield Boothe and his wife Nicole Boothe-Rowe were charged with second degree murder in June 2011 after 10-year-old Shakeil Boothe’s body was found a year ago in the couple’s home. The boy arrived from Jamaica in 2009 to join his father.
By RON FANFAIR