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Judge sentences parents to house arrest in death of boy, 2, left in care of 9-year-old sister

WARNING: This story contains graphic details involving the death of a child:

Parents of a two-year-old have been sentenced to house arrest after the boy died while left in the care of his nine-year-old sibling as the couple was out playing bingo.

The 54-year-old man and 33-year-old woman were in tears in court on Feb. 13 as Provincial Court Judge Denis Guénette sentenced them to two years of house arrest, followed by three years of probation, for failing to provide the necessaries of life.

“It’s going to continue to be a painful journey,” said Guénette, who called the situation tragic while emphasizing the need to “send a signal to the rest of society” about how “bad things happen” when parents don’t keep their “eye on the ball.”

The sentence was jointly recommended by the couple’s defence lawyers, Greg Hawrysh and Alexandra Johnson, and Crown attorney Dayna Queau-Guzzi. The maximum sentence for this offence is five years in custody.

The pair pleaded guilty in October. A publication ban restricts naming the couple to protect the identities of their children.

They share three biological children together including the boy who died, his six-year-old sister and five-year-old sister. The mother also has two children from a previous relationship, who are 16 and nine, according to an agreed statement of facts.

At the advice of her 16-year-old sister, the nine-year-old initially concealed the truth about what happened — namely, that she found her five-year-old sister had put a leash on her two-year-old brother’s neck and was pulling him around the house before he died.

Mom ‘was being selfish’: Crown

The couple left their West End on the afternoon of July 6, 2022, to play bingo, leaving the nine-year-old to look after the two-year-old, five-year-old and six-year-old. The 16-year-old was out of the city.

Court heard the mother asked her 16-year-old’s friend to babysit but left before confirming the 12-year-old could come over that night.

The mother called home around 7 p.m. to check in and learned that the babysitter never showed, said Crown Queau-Guzzi.

“She noted she remained at bingo because ‘she was being selfish and wanted to see if she could win,'” Queau-Guzzi told court. “She was crying and remorseful when speaking … with the pre-sentence report author.”

Around 9:30 p.m., the nine-year-old called 911 saying her brother wasn’t breathing. She said she went to the bathroom and returned to find him pale, with blood coming from his mouth.

Emergency crews arrived and transported the boy to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Police contacted Child and Family Services to take in the couple’s remaining children.

‘Ligature strangulation’ cause of death

In interviews with the children as part of the investigation, the nine-year-old said her brother hurt his neck that night when one of his other sisters tripped him.

An autopsy determined the boy died due to “ligature strangulation,” court documents say.

A search of the home led to the discovery of a black leash and collar in a garbage bin, as well a blood-stained towel.

The nine-year-old was re-interviewed and said her five-year-old sister was playing limbo with her brother early that night with the leash. She said she left the room and returned to find her sister had the leash around her brother’s neck and “was pulling him around.”

The nine-year-old grabbed the leash from her sister, removed it from her brother’s neck, washed it and thew it out, court documents say. She then called police.

She admitted to not telling the truth in the earlier interview based on advice from her 16-year-old sister, who “told her to lie,” court documents say.

Investigators also learned a CFS agency was previously called a year earlier “due to a lack of supervision” by the parents when two girls were seen early one morning “barely dressed, wandering the streets alone,” court documents say. That file was closed shortly before the toddler’s death.

Parents’ history of trauma

A pre-sentence report revealed the Indigenous mother had an “extraordinarily difficult life” marked by the effects of intergenerational trauma from colonization, physical and sexual abuse, and gender-based violence, said Queau-Guzzi. She was also in foster care at an early age. 

She had her first two children at 16 and 18. Both were apprehended by CFS but later returned to her in 2018. Her two other daughters were never in the care of CFS until the 2022 death of their brother.

The two youngest children currently reside with their grandmother and the parents have supervised visits. The 16-year-old is staying with her mother and the nine-year-old remains in foster care.

She and her partner have a healthy relationship with no violence, and though he struggled with alcohol misuse the father has been getting help since the death, court heard.

The mother said she can’t live without her children and wants “to be a better person.”

‘Focus on your family’

The parents have completed counselling, anger management and parenting programming through CFS and hope to reunite with their children, said Queau-Guzzi.

“I’ve always been a good father,” the father told court. “I just want to be with my kids again.”

Judge Guénette said he was encouraged by rehabilitative steps they’ve taken and urged them to keep supporting each other.

“As long as you continue to do that you’ll be better off,” he said. “Focus on your family.… Always cherish and remember [your son].”

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