Double-digit prison sentences for Swan Valley couple found guilty of abusing, neglecting twin infants

WARNING: This story contains graphic details of child abuse.

Over three years after their twin babies were found severely malnourished and on the brink of death, a man and a woman from western Manitoba have been handed double-digit prison sentences.

“There’s no greater breach of trust than between parent and child,” Justice Sandra Zinchuk said during a Court of Queen’s Bench sentencing hearing in Dauphin, Man., on Thursday.

The 40-year-old mother of the twins was sentenced to 18 years, while the 57-year-old father was sentenced to 12 years. The couple cannot be named due to a publication ban to protect their children’s identities.

Child and Family Services apprehended the twins from their home in Swan River Valley, Man., in July 2019. Two social workers went to the home and found the twins with bruises and scrapes on their bodies, court was told. 

They were airlifted to Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital, where it was discovered that each infant had more than 20 fractures on their tiny bodies.

[The twins] were physically abused by one parent while the other parent looked the other way.– Justice Sandra Zinchuk

Last January, the man and woman were convicted of two counts each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessaries of life. The woman was also convicted of two counts of aggravated assault.

“Both have expressed remorse,” Zinchuk said. “However, at this time, I find that both lack insight into their offending conduct.”

Mother had ‘animus’

The twins were “physically abused by one parent while the other parent looked the other way,” said Zinchuk. The abuse was not an isolated incident, she said, with the known period of abuse taking place when the twins were nine to 11 months old.

The infants would have expressed pain and appeared malnourished, and their need for medical attention would have been apparent during that time, she said.

“They were denied medical care when it was so obviously needed.”

The abuse and neglect of the twins was witnessed by three other children who lived in the home, she said.

The mother had an “animus” towards the twins and is at a high risk to reoffend, Zinchuk said.

During the trial, court was told the mother often left the twins outside on the patio while she slept or watched television, or stuffed socks in their mouths to stop them from crying.

The woman brushed off the concerns of others by saying the injuries on the twins were caused by bee stings, or that their weight loss was caused by the fact that they were born prematurely.

She also assured those close to her that the babies were getting regular doctor visits — something the judge said was later determined to be fabricated.

Father ‘failed to act’

The father of the twins was well aware of their need for medical attention, Zinchuk said. The trial showed he had told his partner that they needed to take the babies to the hospital, but she “didn’t let him.”

However, the father had ample opportunity to take the twins to hospital while their mother was away, Zinchuk said.

While the father seems to have a greater understanding of the impact of his actions than the mother does, “he is nowhere near understanding how and why he acted or failed to act as he did,” the judge said.

The twins survived the abuse, Zinchuk said, but “have had to struggle and will continue to have challenges.”

“The impact on the twins, the families and the community is devastating, profound, permanent and to some extent still unknown,” she said.

The abuse nearly resulted in death for one twin, who needed surgery to relieve pressure on the brain, court was told.

This was not a situation of young, inexperienced parents, but of two mature adults who knew what was required of them.– Justice Sandra Zinchuk

Zinchuk said the couple are entitled to some credit for their for expressions of remorse and participation in programming since they were taken into custody.

Their blame, however, is only minimally reduced given the severity of their crimes, she said.

The man and the woman’s ages, and the fact that both have raised children before the twins, were considerable factors in their sentences, said Zinchuk.

“This was not a situation of young, inexperienced parents, but of two mature adults who knew what was required of them.”

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