Operator of daycare where toddler died had previous complaint
Brave. Courageous. Powerful. Just some of the words we’ve heard used to describe a heartfelt statement written by the parents of a toddler who tragically died at an East Vancouver unlicensed daycare earlier this month.
Macallan Wayne Saini, known as Baby Mac, was one day shy of 16 months.
In their letter, Mac’s parents, Chris Saini and Shelley Sheppard describe their son: “He was the love of our lives. Our heart. Our joy. Our everything.”
And according to his parents, his death was entirely preventable.
CTV News has now learned the identity of the woman who was operating the unlicensed daycare at the duplex just off Commercial Drive.
According to another couple who enrolled their child with her for several months, her name is Yasmine Saad, and she operated in the home as the Olive Branch Family Daycare.
The owners of the duplex, Peter Scott and Karen Kruse, live in half the house, and confirm that Saad was their tenant. And when we visited the house 10 days after Mac’s death, we discovered Saad had moved out.
Scott and Kruse weren’t sure when she left, or where she went. And both told me they weren’t aware she was operating a home daycare.
Vancouver police have not named the operator of the daycare and no charges have been laid. And while they still call Mac’s death “not suspicious,” their latest statement says authorities are still investigating the circumstances.
Calls and emails to Saad have not been returned.
With no forwarding address for her, we took a look at court records.
A search of “Yasmine Saad” revealed a startling coincidence: A small claims lawsuit filed in October 2010 against a daycare operator on West 16th Avenue in Vancouver, with the same name and business name. And what’s more, Saad’s phone number and email address listed on the claim were identical to those provided by the couple who had confirmed her identity.
The 2010 complaint, filed by another couple, asked for a refund of $580, money they say they had prepaid Saad for daycare services.
The claim alleged that she "represented herself as a Licensed Childcare Facility but was not” and "was shut down in April 2010 by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.”
A response to the claim shows Yasmine Saad, using the first name “Susy,” paid the $580 and the claim was withdrawn.
When we visited the house on West 16th Avenue, we learned that another tenant had been living there since 2013. She directed us to the landlord, Advent Real Estate Services, which confirmed they had been managing the home in 2010, but in a statement wrote “to the best of our knowledge there was no daycare ran out of the property.”
So we turned to Vancouver Coastal Health which is responsible for investigating daycare complaints in parts of the Lower Mainland.
It didn’t take long for the confirmation to come through: they had received a complaint in 2010 at that address, and had sent someone to investigate.
“A VCH Licensing Officer found the operator was not in compliance with the number of children permitted as an unlicensed daycare,” Anna Marie D’Angelo, a spokesperson for the health authority, wrote to CTV.
D’Angelo also said the officer “directed them to reduce the number of children in care.”
It’s not clear if and when that licensing officer followed up. Vancouver Coastal Health would not release those records to CTV, citing an ongoing investigation, but did say that officers do follow-up visits to ensure compliance.
Yasmine Saad did not respond to our requests for comment about the small claims lawsuit or the visit by a VCH Licensing Officer either.
When we presented what we’d discovered to longtime daycare reform advocate Sharon Gregson, with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., she was concerned, but not surprised.
“I'm not surprised at all that families end up in situations that are less than ideal,” Gregson said. “It happens more often than we care to admit.”
In B.C., unlicensed daycare operators can only legally look after a maximum of two children with few exceptions, including their own children.
And while Vancouver Coastal Health makes it easy for parents to search inspection reports for licensed childcares, when it comes to unlicensed operators, no information is readily available.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education maintains an online database that includes complaint-driven inspections of unlicensed daycares.
When we asked the Health Ministry in Victoria why there isn’t one in B.C., Kristy Anderson, director of media relations wrote: “That is an interesting question and something we may want to speak to our colleagues in Ontario about.”
“I’m not sure parents would even know about past history and those red flags,” Gregson said, referring to child care in B.C. “It’s not an easy system for parents to navigate. Parents do their homework as best as they can.”
Gregson says the solution is not another database. It’s recognizing the system is in chaos, she says, and that there just aren’t enough affordable, licensed spaces for those who need them.
Baby Mac’s parents, in their statement, describe how that same system let them down.
“Please know this,” they wrote. We did all the checks a diligent parent should do. We had lists of things to look for and questions to ask. We signed papers and were given assurances and promises that made us feel like Mac would be safe and well cared for. In the end, this was all meaningless.”
To search for child care in B.C., click here.
To find your local child care resource and referral centre, which maintains lists of licensed, registered and licence-not-required childcare providers, click here.