A Coquitlam non-profit and one of its caregivers have been charged following a 15-month investigation into the death by starvation of a 54-year-old disabled woman.
The BC Prosecution Service has approved charges against Astrid Charlotte Dahl, 51, and Kinsight Community Society, a charitable organization that provides support for people with developmental delays and disabilities.
At a press conference Wednesday morning at Coquitlam RCMP headquarters, spokesperson Cpl. Michael McLaughlin said Mounties first became aware of the case when its officers were called to Dahl’s residence in Port Coquitlam for what they thought was a routine sudden death.
But when they arrived on Oct. 13, 2018, they found a body with clear signs of malnourishment. The ensuing 15-month investigation involved 20 officers, including the serious crimes unit.
The victim’s family had no idea anything was wrong until she was found dead, McLaughlin said.
The BC Coroners Service would later determine the woman died of starvation and malnourishment.
On Monday, Jan. 27, the BC Prosecution Service approved charges against the caregiver and non-profit. Both Dahl and Kinsight have been charged with the failure to perform legal duty to provide the “necessaries of life,” which includes such things as food, shelter, medical attention and protection from harm. Dahl has also been charged with criminal negligence causing death.
“This has been an exhaustive investigation into the care of the victim in the years and months leading up to her death,” said McLaughlin in a press release, later telling The Tri-City News, “This is a case that has impacted every investigator it's touched. It's going to impact people in the community. They need to know that we take these things very seriously.”
Coquitlam RCMP said Dahl and the director of Kinsight have been summoned to appear in court March 9.
Due to what McLaughlin described as “one of these unusual cases where a society has been charged with a criminal offence,” an individual must be served the charges; in this case, that will be the director of Kinsight. But when asked, McLaughlin would not specify which Kinsight director — a title held by nine board members and senior management — would be served.
The RCMP says motive was a challenge to unravel in this case.
“If it were a question of intention, this would be a different charge,” McLaughlin said. “When we talk about something like criminal negligence, it is what the charge suggests: that there was a duty to take care for this woman who required full-time, around-the-clock care. And the allegations are that neither her caregiver nor the society who contracted that caregiver did enough to take care of that vulnerable person.”
McLaughlin added: “It's probably reasonable to believe that the people who've been charged wanted to do a good job.”
Kinsight, formerly the Simon Fraser Society for Community Living, is a long-running organization in the Tri-Cities that also serves New Westminster, Anmore and Belcarra.
Among the programs the organization provides are housing, employment, skill development and support for children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities. It provides housing for adults, including shared living, semi-independent living and staffed homes with ongoing support, according to the organization’s website.
Kinsight recently received kudos for its plans to work with Share Family and Community Services, BC Housing, Inlet United Church and Catalyst Community Development Society to build a mixed-use project in Port Moody with affordable rental units, homes for people with developmental disabilities and a children’s centre as well as space for the church. The Centre at The Springs, at the site of the former St. Andrews United Church on St. Johns Street, is currently under construction and is expected to open in 2021.
In an email to The Tri-City News, Kinsight’s director of adult services, Tess Huntly, wrote, “We were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this individual.” She also noted this is the first time in the organization’s 65-year history that the death of someone in their care has led to a police investigation and criminal charges.
“Kinsight has cooperated fully with the authorities investigating this death,” Huntly wrote. “We are confident that all care and safety provisions for those we serve are being met.”
Indeed, RCMP spokesperson McLaughlin said there was no evidence to suggest that either Kinsight or Dahl have or are currently involved in abuse or criminally negligent behaviour beyond this one case.
But he also put a call out to the public, saying, “If you are aware of anything that approaches criminal negligence, please know that the police are interested and we would like to hear from you.”
Coquitlam RCMP's non-emergency phone number is 604-945-1550.
Recently, the city of Port Moody awarded Kinsight CEO Christine Scott the Peter Hulbert accessibility award for her efforts to forge unique partnerships to create shared, welcoming spaces.