Woman who left child in freezing car given conditional discharge

By Patrick Burles - @PatrickBurles on Twitter
March 7, 2018 - 3:15pm

LETHBRIDGE – A mother who left her three-year-old child in a freezing car while she went to a downtown bar, has been given a conditional discharge by the court.

The woman cannot be named to protect the identity of the child.

As part of her sentence she will have one year of probation, and if she complies with all of the conditions included in that – abstain from the use of alcohol and drugs, attend counselling as directed by her supervisor, among others – she will be granted a discharge that will result in no criminal record.

During the sentencing hearing, the woman’s lawyer, Darcy Shurtz, argued for the conditional discharge, saying the 25-year-old showed significant remorse for her actions, as demonstrated by steps she had already taken to rehabilitate herself.

“I think it really showed how much she cared for her daughter and really realized the mistake she had made, and that it was just a mistake and one that she was never going to make again in the future,” Shurtz said outside the courthouse.

“She took more steps than most people that come through the criminal system take to turn her life around,” he continued. “She had done counselling, parenting skills, and in fact, [the Ministry of Children's Services] decided as well that their case should be closed, and they had no more concerns for her. And so, I thought the public really had no more concerns for her parenting abilities as well.”

It was noted in court that the woman once again has full custody of her daughter, who is now four-years-old. She also has a six-year-old son who is in the custody of her mother.

Shurtz explained that the woman is a member of the Blood Tribe and was abandoned by her mother at the age of one and went to live with her grandparents, where she was exposed to alcoholism and domestic violence. She later reconnected with her mother, but again was exposed to domestic violence through people her mother was involved in relationships with. By the age of 16, Shurtz said she had developed her own alcohol abuse issues. He noted that the issues trace back to the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people and should be covered under the Gladue sentencing principles.

As part of his argument for the conditional discharge, Shurtz stated that a criminal record could damage the work the woman has done.

“Her career path is obviously going into any kind of dental hygiene or assisting. Every employer looks into a criminal record, so I was concerned about that. She was concerned about whether or not her schooling would be a waste of her time if she had a criminal record and could never get a career in that field,” said Shurtz, adding there were also concerns with how a criminal record would impact her ability to receive some forms of government assistance in the future.

Crown prosecutor Erin Olsen, had asked for three-to-six months of house arrest, followed by six-to-nine months of probation. She noted that the woman “has done a remarkable amount of work” to correct her life and was willing to take full responsibility. That said, Olsen told the court that a period of custody was required when considering the risk to the child and the need to send a message of denunciation to the community.

After hearing the submissions from both sides, Judge Gerald DeBow made a point of outlining the woman’s troubled life and acknowledging everything she has done to reach this point.

“It’s clear today that she’s done everything she can do over the last year to improve her circumstances,” stated DeBow, adding that it’s unique to see someone who has taken such steps. He agreed that it was in her best interests to avoid receiving a criminal record and granted the conditional discharge.

Facts of the case

The woman pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of in October of 2017.

In an agreed statement of facts read out by the Crown at that time, it was stated that a civilian called the Lethbridge Police Service at 11:25 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2016, after hearing a baby crying in a locked and shut-off vehicle parked along the 200 block of 5 Street South. Officers arrived on scene immediately and smashed one of the front windows out of a white SUV, after it was identified by the witness. Inside they found a three-year-old girl who was crying and cold to the touch.

After sending the girl to the Chinook Regional Hospital, police searched the vehicle, and found a four-year-old boy curled-up in a ball under a pile of jackets and shivering silently. Both were wearing winter coats.

Police noted that it was snowing that night and the temperature was -18 C.

A report prepared by a pediatric specialist stated that both children were suffering from mild or early hypothermia, but that neither sustained any long-term physical harm. While the author of the report couldn’t say how much longer the children would have lasted in the vehicle, it was noted that there was a risk of severe hypothermia, frost-bite and even death.

During a search of the area, police found the 25-year-old in a nearby bar, where she was very intoxicated. She told officers that she was there with another individual and that she had forgotten about her child.

The investigation – which included help from the bar – revealed that the woman had been there for about an hour.

The other accused

A 32-year-old woman who was also charged in connection with the incident currently has a one-day trial scheduled for later this month.

Her identity is also blocked by a publication ban to protect her child.

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