Toronto Star

Jan. 24, 01:00 EDT

Mothers in separate cases face another trial - to get children back

Philip Mascoll
The Toronto Star

Maureen Laidley would have loved to have spent last night with her two children.

She has not been alone with the girl and boy - now 10 and 8 years old - or stayed overnight with them in the three years since they were taken from her by the Toronto Children's Aid Society.

The separation began when she was charged in the death of her 3-year-old stepson, Laidley, 28, said yesterday.

But Monday, just as jury selection was to start for her trial, the crown abruptly stayed second-degree murder charges against her.

John Struthers, her lawyer, said the crown attorney told the judge he asked for the stay to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

But even now, Laidley fears the CAS is going to block her attempts to have a normal life with her surviving children.

``Thank God for the end to these charges, but I want my children and my life back,'' she said in a telephone interview.

''There's really no words that can express how much I want to be with'' them, she said. ``They were taken from me because of charges of which I was innocent, before I was even tried.

``The CAS found me guilty without a trial. There was no reason to take the children, and I would have thought they would immediately give them back now that the charges have been dropped.''

In another recent case, Vilma Climaco, a former nanny cleared of sexual assault charges, faces an uphill battle to regain custody of her only child, her lawyer says.

Climaco, 38, was accused in early 1999 of forcing 4-year-old twin boys to perform sex acts on her while she was their nanny for three months starting in May, 1998.

Her son's father gained custody of the boy after she was charged and now lives in California with the child.

In Laidley's case, her stepson, Tyrell Salmon, died of head injuries after being admitted to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children in January, 1998.

The boy was in her care while his father, Garth Anthony Salmon, was in custody on charges related to the slaying of Linda DeLellis, a Toronto mother of two. The charges were later withdrawn.

Staff at Sick Kids did not believe Laidley when she told them Tyrell had fallen and hit his head on a marble-topped table.

She took the boy to bed and later awoke to see vomit around his mouth and called 911, she said. Hospital staff called in the CAS, who called the police.

A year later, after an investigation by a hospital team, she was charged with second-degree murder.

The staying of the charges came after a week of pre-trial arguments at which the judge, Mr. Justice Archie Campbell sharply criticized some witnesses and evidence, Struthers said.

Last night, a spokesperson for the Toronto CAS said she could not discuss specific cases. But in general, the CAS can remove or return children only with the approval of a family court.

Early in Climaco's second trial two weeks ago, Mr. Justice Paul Rivard ruled that all the crown's evidence was unreliable and inadmissible, said defence lawyer Cindy Wasser.

Climaco's ``sole purpose in life right now will be to try to get her son,'' Wasser said.

She doesn't have the money to move to California or hire a U.S. lawyer. But Wasser said friends and the community are planning to raise funds.

Copyright © 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.