TORONTO—DC Entertainment has reversed an unpopular decision that generated a “maelstrom” of backlash, agreeing Wednesday to allow the Superman logo to be used on a memorial statue of a Toronto boy who was starved to death.
Five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin died in 2002 after being severely neglected by his grandparents, but a coroner’s inquest last winter into his death caught the attention of Ottawa resident Todd Boyce.
Boyce was moved by Jeffrey’s plight, and raised money to build a statue of the boy. He was especially affected by testimony from the boy’s father that in happier times Jeffrey loved Superman and wanted to fly just like the superhero.
The statue’s artist, Ruth Abernethy—known for a Glenn Gould bronze statue on a bench on Front Street in Toronto and a bronze of Oscar Peterson outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa—designed it with Jeffrey standing on a bench, wearing a Superman costume like he did one Halloween.
DC Entertainment initially refused Boyce permission to use the logo on the memorial, but gave Boyce the OK on Wednesday, two days after The Canadian Press first reported the denial.
“I think they received a lot of backlash from their fans…They described it as a maelstrom of fan uprising,” Boyce said, adding that a DC executive told him they received very hateful messages.
“They had struggled with this decision before, but based on the response that they’ve received they’ve come around to reversing it.”
Boyce was surprised by the amount of attention the DC decision received, saying he got calls from friends in the United States and the United Kingdom after seeing the story picked up there.
“There’s the whole David vs Goliath factor—the little person taking on the big corporation—which I didn’t really feel like I was doing,” he said. “I just asked them and they gave me an answer and kind of left it at that.”
And of course, there’s Jeffrey himself, Boyce said.
“He’s a Toronto boy, but what he represents is sort of worldwide,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any compassionate person out there that doesn’t feel for young, vulnerable children and the type of tragedy that affected him.”
DC released a statement Wednesday saying that after verifying the support of appropriate family members, they will allow the Jeffrey Baldwin memorial statue to feature the Superman “S” logo.
“We are honoured by the relationship that our fans have with our characters, and fully understand the magnitude of their passion,” the company said in its statement.
“We take each request seriously and our heartfelt thoughts go out to the victims, the family and those affected. DC Entertainment uses a flexible set of criteria when we receive worthy requests such as this, and at times have reconsidered our initial stance.”
After DC originally denied him permission Boyce decided the Superman “S” should be changed to a “J” for Jeffrey. The foundry where the bronze casting will be completed had just removed the “S” when Boyce learned Tuesday afternoon that DC might be reconsidering, but Abernethy has told him it won’t be too much trouble to restore the logo, he said.
Boyce is working with city officials in the hopes the memorial can be unveiled in a Toronto park in September.
“I’m really ecstatic right now,” Boyce said. “I was sort of coming around to using the ‘J’…but I’m happy to go back to the original vision with the ‘S’ logo.”
Jeffrey’s grandparents are now serving life sentences for second-degree murder after locking him for long stretches in a cold room, fetid with his own waste, and so severely starving him that when he died just shy of his sixth birthday, his weight was that of a 10-month-old infant.
The jury in the coroner’s inquest into his death issued a broad slate of 103 recommendations, aimed at closing various gaps in the system so no other child meet’s Jeffrey’s fate.
The most glaring oversight in Jeffrey’s case was the failure of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society to check out Jeffrey’s grandparents before giving them custody of the boy and his siblings.
Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman had both previously been convicted of abusing children but when Bottineau came forward to the CCAS and offered to care for her grandchildren, she seemed well-meaning and workers didn’t look deeper, the CCAS has acknowledged.
Standards surrounding so-called kinship care have changed since Jeffrey’s death in 2002, but the jury’s recommendations suggest there is much more to be done.
The jury was clearly moved by Jeffrey’s sad tale. They wrote at the end of their recommendations that they were “hopeful” a permanent memorial could be established for Jeffrey, to “provide the important ongoing public safety message that the protection of vulnerable children in Ontario is every citizen’s responsibility.”