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Trial hears foster baby had frequent bruises

WINNIPEG - Even before he was a year old, and long before he died suddenly, Cameron Ouskan would regularly suffer bruises, his foster mother told a murder trial Tuesday.

"He always had a new bruise — maybe the size of a dime — every other day, every few days," Brenda Blacksmith testified.

But in a busy house with two working parents, a daytime babysitter and four other kids, it was unclear who or what was causing the bruising.

"No one could explain that to me," she said.

Blacksmith testified on the second day of the second-degree murder trial of her husband, Roderick Blacksmith, who is accused in the Nov. 12, 2008 death of Cameron. The boy was 13 months old when he was rushed to hospital in the small town of Gillam and transferred to hospital in Thompson, where he died the following day.

The Crown has said it will provide evidence that the baby boy suffered head injuries. Brenda Blacksmith told court she never hurt the baby and never saw her husband hurt the baby.

Under cross-examination, she agreed with defence lawyer Saul Simmonds's suggestion that her husband was a gentle man who had never raised a hand to her or the children.

Blacksmith also said she never saw her biological children — four daughters who were between one and nine at the time — hurt the baby intentionally.

The youngest daughter would sometimes "crawl on top" of Cameron to get to a toy, Blacksmith testified. An older daughter had been in physical conflicts at daycare, but had never shown any hostility toward Cameron, she added.

A few days before his death, Cameron suffered a cut on his head. Blacksmith testified she saw a smudge of blood on the carpet in the living room and her husband checked the baby's head.

"It wasn't bleeding. It was coagulating already," she told court.

"He didn't seem bothered by the cut on his head."

Blacksmith said she washed the boy's head in the bath and he seemed fine afterward.

On Monday, the trial was shown a videotaped police interview in which Roderick Blacksmith said the baby liked to fall backwards and bump his head on the floor as a form of play.

He told police the baby had been put to bed on Nov. 12, 2008, and when Blacksmith went back to check on him, the boy was unresponsive and his mouth was filled with vomit. Brenda Blacksmith was not in the house at the time.

Blacksmith told police he called the hospital, and performed CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until help arrived.

He also told police Cameron had thrown up his baby food that day, which was not uncommon.

Brenda Blacksmith gave similar testimony Tuesday. She said Cameron did not seem like himself and appeared sick and "droopy."

Simmonds, during his cross-examination, pointed to another possibility. The babysitter had dropped Cameron on his head in the tub Nov. 10 and that is when the baby started behaving oddly, he put to Brenda Blacksmith.

"All of these symptoms are occurring, starting on the 10th and increasing to the 12th, correct?" Simmonds asked.

"Correct," she replied.

The babysitter never mentioned what happened until after Cameron was rushed to hospital, she added.

The trial is to run five weeks. Many of the Crown witnesses are medical experts who are to testify about what kind of injuries Cameron suffered and the time frame during which the injuries occurred, Crown attorney Mark Kantor said.

The timing may be critical. Roderick Blacksmith worked all day and Cameron was usually left with a babysitter, including on the day of his death. Simmonds noted that the babysitter was initially arrested, but never charged.

At one point on his final night, Cameron and another infant were watched by a seven-year-old for a few minutes while both parents were out, Brenda Blacksmith said Tuesday.

Cameron Ouskan had originally been scheduled to stay with the Blacksmiths for only a few days when he was six months old. He had been taken by social workers and was "extremely dirty, extremely tired and sick" when he first arrived at the Blacksmith home, Brenda Blacksmith said.

Cameron had a stomach infection from drinking "mouldy milk from a bottle", she added.

After a few days, the Blacksmiths decided they were better prepared to care for Cameron than other foster parents who were under consideration, she said.

Cameron's death is one of several recent years that have brought attention to Manitoba's troubled child-welfare system. An inquiry report into the 2005 death of Phoenix Sinclair is due next month and is expected to issue system-wide recommendations.

Phoenix was killed by her mother and mother's boyfriend after social workers closed her file. Her death went undetected for nine months.

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