London News & Search
“A sense of relief” washed over Alex Smith’s family when they walked out of Ontario’s highest court knowing the developmental services worker who had brutally beaten their non-verbal autistic son would stay behind bars.
“But then you start doing the math and figuring out when he’s eligible for parole,” said Shawn Smith, Alex’s father, after the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed Greg Simard’s appeal of his 20-year sentence for four convictions, including the attempted murder of Alex on Sept. 9, 2012.
“It’s really tough to stay positive.”
It was difficult to go to court again this week, he said “because someone thinks they were hard done by because of the sentence that was handed to them.
“You look at your son and what he gave up and what he lost and think ‘You could go to jail for 100 years and be reincarnated and go for another 100 and there isn’t any sort of balance there.’ ”
The family asked the court this week to lift the publication ban placed on their identity so they could share what has happened since Alex, now 17, was beaten, kicked, stomped on and left for dead by Simard in the woods behind Child and Family Resource Institute (CPRI) on Sanatorium Road.
“We would have been extremely distraught if the court had come back and cut his sentence in half like they were asking,” Shawn Smith said.
“It takes one thing off of our plate and for that we are quite grateful.”
At the time of Simard’s sentencing in 2013, Ontario Court Justice Jeanine LeRoy said “it was difficult to imagine a more brutal act of violence toward a defenceless child short of murder.”
Simard’s lawyers argued at the appeal that the sentence, one of the longest terms dealt in London courts in recent memory for attempted murder, was too lengthy and didn’t take sufficient notice that Simard suffered from a mental illness.
Simard, an honours Fanshawe College grad, was working at the London children’s facility, but had been showing signs of erratic behaviour before the attack. The day before he had gone into a storage facility and asked for his ID. He rode away on a bicycle and was seen running naked on the street.
After attacking Alex, he took a co-worker’s car. Once arrested, he made disturbing claims about his crime — that he “tried to kill a retard” — grabbed a female police officer on the wrist and coat collar and clenched his fist.
Two differing psychiatric assessments led to a finding that Simard was criminally responsible.
The appeal court acknowledged the mental illness but said the sentence “was not manifestly unfit.”
“It’s over, there will not be a further appeal,” said Gordon Cudmore, Simard’s lawyer.
The court’s decision was made with the Smiths and 30 supporters in the court. They had filled a bus and drove together from their hometown of Cambridge to Toronto to attend the hearing.
“We packed the courtroom to standing room because we wanted them to know it was important,” Shawn Smith said.
“I don’t think it really makes a difference — the court saw justice was done — but it was all we could do.”
Since the attack Alex has soldiered on through a long recovery. He’s improved, Shawn Smith said, but he will never be the same.
And Alex has grown up, his father said. But his balance remains terribly impaired from the critical injury to his cerebellum. On good days, he can walk 10 or 20 steps. On bad days, he will list and fall over.
He does physiotherapy every day, working his legs on the treadmill. But for the most part, he must use a wheelchair.
He’s alive and his family is grateful. But he needs constant care.
This is still an improvement from the early grave diagnosis and the 199 days Alex spent in a London hospital after Simard’s attack.
His father fears that five years after Alex’s brain injury that this will be the best he will ever be.
“We should be damn thankful but there are days that’s it’s really hard to be that thankful,” he said.
Alex had been in the residential program at CPRI and his father had driven him back earlier the day of the beating after a weekend at home.
They had asked for help with Alex’s aggressive behaviour connected to his autism. They waited two years for treatment. He was starting his last week there when he was attacked.
Alex’s behaviour has improved since puberty, his father said. “His behaviour has been really, really good and his communication skills have gotten better.”
They worry about how Alex will be cared for as he ages. “We have to focus on how do we take care of Alex, how do we have the resources in place, the right people supporting us and helping us.”
His 19-year-old sister, Olivia, a university student, has vowed she will care for him once her parents can’t so he will never have to go to a institution.
She’s asked her parents to be sure there are enough resources.
Already, that care has cost the family a fortune in home renovations and treatments. The financial toll is hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Shawn Smith said he and his wife, Anne Marie, are fortunate they have been able to shoulder the costs so far. “The average Canadian family would have been completely screwed.”
A civil suit against the Ontario government who runs CPRI, and Simard, remains unresolved.
They aim to put Simard “behind us” even though the damage he caused “plagues our thoughts.”
“It doesn’t change what we deal with every single day one iota,” Shawn Smith said.
London News & Search