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Ontario girl found dead at bottom of cliff was likely killed by father as revenge against ex-wife, report finds

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A four-year-old Ontario girl who was found dead at the bottom of a cliff with her father was likely killed in a murder-suicide that could have been prevented, a new report says.

Keira Kagan was found dead in February 2020 along with her father, Robin Brown, in Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ont.

A report by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, obtained by CTV News Toronto, shows that despite repeated warnings, risk factors, and multiple court hearings, the system failed to protect Keira.

“It has been a nightmare,” Keira’s mother, Jennifer Kagan, said Thursday. “Three years have passed, but for me it is like it happened yesterday.”

The report was obtained by CTV News Toronto on the same day Dr. Dirk Huyer, Chief Coroner for Ontario, announced an inquest will be held into Keira's death. According to Huyer, the inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding the death, and a jury will make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths.

The report, compiled by a group of family violence experts, found that Keira’s death “may have been retribution on the part of the father against the mother for terminating the relationship.”

Brown and Kagan had been separated for four years at the time of Keira’s death. Following the divorce, there was “extensive litigation” in family court.

According to the report, Kagan had repeatedly warned the court about Brown’s behaviour, raising “serious issues about Brown’s mental health and inappropriate conduct.”

Court documents, previously provided by Kagan, show a contentious and lengthy custody battle that was before the courts at the time of the deaths. Kagan had brought forward an urgent motion on Jan. 28 2020, seeking a court order to suspend Brown's joint custody of Keira, or give him only supervised access.

“The judge signaled a potential reduction in father’s parenting time and the Children’s Aid Society communicated their concerns to the mother,” the report found.

Just days before a judge was going to release a decision on reducing Brown’s parenting time, the deaths occurred.

“The Children’s Aid Society worker was considering a protection application but needed to talk to her manager first,” the report said. “However, the mother still had to release her daughter for a weekend visit on Feb. 7, as part of the existing court order. Her daughter died on Feb. 9th.”

According to the report, Brown took his daughter to a cliff in the conservation area that is off the main trail that is “difficult to access.”

“It is clearly a precarious place to take a four-year-old,” the report said.

Brown and Keira were found dead at the base of the 100-foot cliff by emergency crews who launched an extensive search for the two after Brown stopped answering calls and text messages.

After deeming the cause of deaths inconclusive, the Office of the Coroner asked the group of experts to investigate on behalf of them.

The report found there were at least 22 risk factors of intimate partner homicide prior to the deaths. According to the report, for a death to be deemed “predictable and preventable,” seven or more risk factors need to be present.

According to the report, some of Brown’s risk factors included a history of domestic violence with previous partners, misogynistic attitudes, controlling the mother’s daily activities, prior hostage taking or forcible confinement, choking the mother in the past, and prior violence towards family pets.

“The father was also facing other stressors, such as his engineering company failing and his senior employees looking for jobs elsewhere. He had been discovered to have lied about his academic credentials and there were concerns expressed about his ability to take on the projects he had accepted.”

For Kagan, the findings of this report don’t come as a surprise. She said she’s never had any doubt her daughter was the victim of a murder-suicide.

“We would have hoped that this could have been decided three years ago,” she said.

“My daughter was my best friend and the opportunity to see her grow up has been taken away from me,” Kagan said. “With that said, we have to move forward and continue helping other victims and children.”

The experts who formed the report have put forward a number of recommendations to help protect children like Keira in the future.

“The major theme in the recommendations is the need for enhanced training and changes in policy and practice for Children’s Aid Societies, judges, lawyers, and mental health professionals when completing parenting (custody) assessments,” the report said.

“This training is necessary to fully understand all forms of family violence including coercive control and litigation abuse versus the label of conflict, as well as understanding the implication of family violence for parenting plans that promote child and mother safety.”

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