Ottawa Citizen
Thursday 9 August 2001

Calgary mother 'let off too easily'

Woman suspected in children's deaths will likely flee country, lawyer says

Randy Boswell and Grady Semmens
The Ottawa Citizen; with files from Citizen News Services

The Canadian Press / Calgary police are in a race against time to gather more evidence against Rie Fujii in the death of her baby boy in June and in the suspected death of her three-month-old daughter, whose body was never found. She is in the country illegally and may leave as soon as she is released.

Many Calgarians reacted with outrage yesterday at news that the mother of two small children, who is suspected of having dumped one in a river and left the other to die of starvation in her apartment, could soon fly home to Japan after pleading guilty only to the improper handling of human remains.

Police said yesterday they were still trying to gather enough evidence to lay more charges against Rie Fujii, 23, in connection with the early June death of her 15-month-old son, Domenic, and the suspected death in May of her three-month-old daughter, Gemini, whose body has never been found.

But Ms. Fujii, who came to Canada four years ago on a student visa from Japan, is expected to plead guilty next week to a single charge of neglecting to dispose of a dead body.

And investigators admit they're in a race against time to lay more serious charges before she has a chance to leave the country.

"Time is always an enemy but if there isn't sufficient evidence to lay a charge it is not laid," said Staff Sgt. George Rocks, head of the Calgary Police homicide unit.

Ms. Fujii made a brief appearance in court yesterday after undergoing two 30-day psychiatric assessments at the Peter Lougheed Centre. She was declared fit to stand trial.

Her lawyer, Balfour Der, said Ms. Fujii is planning to plead guilty to the failure to dispose charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. And he added that because she is facing deportation anyway, it is possible she will leave the country as soon as she is released from custody.

"She is in the country illegally and an immigration proceeding is on hold while her criminal matters are being dealt with," Mr. Der said. "I'm sure that if she's willing to get on a plane when she gets out it'll make things that much easier for them."

Ashid Bahl, president of the For the Love of Children Society in Calgary, said his organization was swamped yesterday with calls from citizens angry that Ms. Fujii is "being let off too easily."

He said the group, which organized a memorial service for Domenic last month and won't take a public stand on her punishment, received some calls sympathetic to Ms. Fujii but many from people pushing for more serious charges against her.

"They wanted our society to get involved, saying we should lobby and let it be known that the punishment certainly does not fit the crime."

The Fujii case has prompted a summer of collective soul-searching in Calgary over the lack of intervention by neighbours to prevent the tragedy. Tenants in the building where Ms. Fujii was living in June recalled hearing a young child crying off and on for several days before the landlord discovered Domenic's decomposing body on the floor of the unfurnished one-bedroom apartment.

Police believe the infant girl's body was wrapped in plastic some weeks earlier and disposed of in the Bow River. A massive search for the tiny corpse was called off in late June.

So along with a nagging sense of guilt over Domenic's unheeded wails, Calgarians are frustrated about the failure of the search for Gemini, the apparent fruitlessness of the police investigation and the limited information about what happened to the children.

The case has also set off a debate about whether disgust over Ms. Fujii's negligence or sympathy for her plight as a single mother is the appropriate response to the tragedy. Considerable anger has also been directed toward her estranged boyfriend, Peter Brown, who has been accused of shirking his responsibilities as a father, doing little to help police probe the deaths and displaying no apparent interest in burying his son's body.

What exactly happened to the the children and what Ms. Fujii was thinking or doing while her son and daughter were dying remains a mystery. Letters to Mr. Brown and a diary she kept last summer have given a glimpse of the mounting pressure she felt as a single mother and her regret that the burdens of parenthood were robbing her of freedom to enjoy life as she once had.

"I'm not sure we can handle raising a child," she wrote to Mr. Brown in 1999 while expecting Domenic. "We've had hard times so many time so far. We don't even have enough money, we don't have anybody to support us, I'm just scared ... I feel so lonely in this country. I miss Japan so much, where I don't have to worry about anything."

Later, after Domenic's birth, she wrote: "I've been trying my best for seven months, but I didn't know anything about baby." Eventually, after she'd become pregnant with Gemini, her diary entries began to foreshadow the coming tragedy: "I get stressed out, looking after baby, paying the rent, buying everything, it's way too much. ... I deserve to have fun or spend my own money on myself like I used to do. I hate my stupid living. I've decided to live like I used to."

Staff Sgt. Rocks said no further charges are pending against Ms. Fujii at this time.

"Our people are still actively pursuing this case," he said. "The fact is she's still here and we're still investigating."

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.