Saskatoon StarPhoenix

May 25, 2002

Girl, 14, pleads guilty to infanticide

Newborn boy dies after being abandoned on trail near home

Heather Polischuk and Jason Warick, Senior Reporter
Saskatchewan News Network
Saskatoon StarPhoenix

PRINCE ALBERT -- A 14-year-old girl pleaded guilty Friday to infanticide for abandoning her newborn baby along a seldom-used trail behind her home.

The teenager, who cannot be named under the Young Offenders Act, was also charged with first-degree murder, but that was dropped in exchange for her guilty plea to the lesser charge.

The girl walked into a bush on Oct. 2, 2001, near the home on the Whitefish reserve that she shared with several relatives and gave birth to the baby. She had hidden the pregnancy from her family, court heard.

The girl wrapped the baby boy in a blanket, placed him along the infrequently used trail and walked away.

The baby's body was discovered along the path two days later.

Crown prosecutor Peter Hryhorchuk said a post-mortem examination revealed there were no bruises on the body and the baby likely died of exposure. He said the baby, who was never fed, lived for at least two hours after he was born.

"It appeared to be a normal child, healthy," Hryhorchuk said in court.

The girl, flanked by family and social workers, sat in the back of the courtroom clutching a stress ball as her lawyer Peter Abrametz Jr. entered the plea on her behalf.

The girl is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 23.

It's the first infanticide charge laid in Saskatchewan since 1985, and just the second since 1977, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Infanticide, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, pertains to a woman or girl who causes the death of her newborn child through an act of will or omission.

A woman or girl is charged with this offence when she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, "her mind is then disturbed."

It's unclear what the girl's medical condition or mental state was at the time, but there were other unique factors in the case.

Hryhorchuk said the girl became pregnant at age 13 and was therefore underage.

The girl's 20-year-old second cousin, who cannot be named to protect her identity, has been charged with sexually assaulting her. He is reportedly the father of the baby.

His preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 20 at the Whitefish reserve on the Big River First Nation.

The girl is staying in a home where social workers and family members are working with her to move her past the traumatic event.

"I know she has the benefit of a lot of support from her family and various professional people," said her lawyer.

Infanticide is a controversial section of the Criminal Code. Some people feel that when a woman kills her own child it should never lead to anything less than a murder conviction.

"There is such a thing as absolute truth. We are human, and we have a responsibility to the life of other humans," said Walter Schneider of the group Fathers for Life.

"We cannot devalue one human life because we feel sorry for the perpetrator."

Schneider, who was reached at his home in rural Alberta, said infanticide "is a euphemism for murder. It is simply murder."

But University of Saskatchewan criminal law Prof. Tim Quigley believes there is a place for infanticide provisions in the Criminal Code.

In this case, with the alleged rape and the various other factors, Quigley said a first-degree murder charge "seems a bit stretched."

He said the reason infanticide charges are so rare is that it is very narrowly defined.

"It's not to put a different value on the life of a child. It's to give some understanding to the circumstances of a woman who is in unfortunate straits," he said.

Saskatoon pediatrician Dr. C. Krochak said all women experience some level of stress during and immediately after giving birth. Sleep deprivation, lack of family support, lack of parenting skills are some of the things that contribute to stress levels.

Post-partum depression is a psychiatric illness that can make new mothers act irrationally.

"If they have definite post-partum depression, they cannot make proper choices. You're almost psychotic. You don't know your reality anymore," Krochak said.

Krochak said the age of the woman, an alleged rape, and other lifestyle factors usually play a bigger role than actual mental illness when women kill their children.

© Copyright  2002 Saskatoon StarPhoenix