Trigger Warning: Child Abuse

By now, Canadians know the name Jeffrey Baldwin well. The boy, only five years old and twenty-one pounds when he died, spent years confined with his three siblings in his grandparents’ home, slowly starving. Although Jeffrey died in 2002, a coroner’s inquest into his death started last year, and has been a fixture in the news cycle since. His grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman were convicted of second-degree murder in 2006. They both received life sentences. He and his sister were locked in an unheated bedroom, fed irregularly, left to drink out of the ensuite toilet, and beaten.

Jeffrey loved Superman and dreamed of flying. His father, Richard Baldwin, told the Toronto Star that “[Jeffrey] tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up (as Superman) for Halloween one year … He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel.”

As who’ve watched the story unfold in the news over the years, Canadians have been deeply affected — both horrified by the crime, and moved by Jeffrey’s dreams. Like Amanda Reed of Action, who raised funds to plant a garden in Jeffrey’s honor, and Todd Boyce of Ottawa, who raised over $36 thousand dollars on Indiegogo to construct a bronze statute of Jeffrey in Toronto’s Greenwood park. In his campaign pitch, Boyce said,

Jeffrey’s statue will be constructed in a manner to allow children to interact with. This will in a sense, allow children to play with Jeffrey, a neglected, abused child that was prevented from having any friends to play with himself during his short life. Jeffrey was a vulnerable little boy who deserved so much more than what he got. Our statue will honour Jeffrey, a boy who never had a chance to grow up.

This memorial will become a centrepiece tribute within Greenwood Park, Toronto. It will be a symbol to everyone about how important it is to be diligent about reporting suspected instances of child abuse to prevent another needless death such as Jeffrey’s.

But today the Star reported that DC Entertainment has blocked Boyce from using Superman’s shield in this statue. Amy Genkins, senior VP of business and legal affairs, told him via email that “for a variety of legal reasons, we are not able to accede to the request, nor many other incredibly worthy projects that come to our attention.”

Boyce has decided to push forward with the monument in an altered form. He is worried, though, that without the Superman motif, the statue will lose some of its power. “It’s the image of a vulnerable boy dressed up as the most invulnerable character in the universe.”

Boyce noted that he understands DC’s position — they need to protect their copyright, after all and may not wish to open themselves up to accusations of bias, should they approve one use of the Superman shield and not another. He speculated that they may not wish to have their brand associated with child abuse.

And while I understand DC’s position too — of course we all do, as corporate rights and privileges are difficult to ignore — no one could infer from the proposed monument that DC Entertainment in any way countenanced the actions of Jeffrey’s grandparents. And no one would associate Superman with child abuse in any way but this: that he gave hope to and inspired dreams in a child in the most desperate of circumstances.

I was reminded by a Twitter friend of these words from Christopher Reeves:

It’s very hard for me to be silly about Superman, because I’ve seen firsthand how he actually transforms people’s lives. I have seen children dying of brain tumors who wanted as their last request to talk to me, and have gone to their graves with a peace brought on by knowing that their belief in this kind of character really matters. It’s not Superman the tongue-in-cheek cartoon character they’re connecting with; they’re connecting with something very basic: the ability to overcome obstacles, the ability to persevere, the ability to understand difficulty and to turn your back on it. [Christopher Reeve] – Time, (March 14, 1988)

And so while we all understand DC’s position very well, we all too see clearly that this was an opportunity for DC to act with grace and understanding, and to live up to the ideals espoused by one of their biggest, most profitable properties. This was a chance for DC to acknowledge Jeffrey’s life and his love for a character who let him dream of flying.

Artist's rendition of the proposed monument, courtesy of the Indiegogo campaign.

Artist’s rendition of the proposed monument, courtesy of the Indiegogo campaign.

Read our update on this situation here