REGINA — In their final few moments of freedom Tuesday, a Fort Qu'Appelle-area couple clasped hands in a Regina courtroom.
"I love you," the husband said just before the two were led away in handcuffs to begin three-year prison terms for starving their granddaughter over the course of 17 months.
"To describe the conduct of each accused as despicable, deplorable and horrendous is to use adjectives that do not adequately describe the conduct," Regina Court of Queen's Bench Justice Frank Gerein wrote in his 15-page sentencing decision. "The accused could not help but see the situation and yet they did nothing to eliminate, or even relieve it. "
Representing themselves at trial, the couple — neither of whom can be named because of a publication ban on the girl's identity — denied they were guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life as alleged by the Crown. But after hearing from numerous Crown witnesses — including members of the couple's own family — Gerein concluded the couple was guilty as charged. Sentencing arguments were made later, with Crown prosecutor Mitch Crumley asking four to five years be imposed (the maximum being five years for this offence).
In asking for the close-to-maximum term, Crumley pointed to the severity of the offence, which began after the girl, then two, was placed into the custody of her grandfather and his wife on Feb. 1, 2007. Prior to leaving her previous home in British Columbia, the girl had been described as healthy and happy, weighing 13.6 kilograms. When removed from her grandparents' home 17 months later, her weight was recorded as 12.5 kilograms and she'd become timid, withdrawn and frightened.
Witnesses told court the girl was denied food and suffered some physical and verbal abuse, once being literally thrown into a bedroom. Witnesses also said the little girl was kept, at times, locked inside a dark, windowless room in the basement with nothing but a blanket on the floor.
Little explanation was given for the treatment, nor for the fact the grandparents treated the girl differently from two other children in their care — a fact that wasn't lost on Gerein. The judge said he'd considered Gladue factors on the sentencing of aboriginals in this case since the man and woman, now aged 55 and 52, had experienced abuse in their youths and had spent time in residential school. But Gerein said those factors don't provide an excuse and had to take a back seat to denunciation and deterrence in this case.
"They must know right from wrong," he wrote. "They must know that despite their unfortunate past, they are usually responsible for their wrongful acts . . . Secondly, it is not possible to conclude that poverty, abuse, substance abuse or racism contributed to the wrongful treatment of the victim herein. Anyone with even a minimum intelligence knows that it is wrong to mistreat a child."
He added he didn't believe the couple's parenting skills were impacted by their pasts.
"In fact, they possessed normal parenting skills," Gerein wrote. "It is very telling that the other two children in the home lived normal lives . . . In short, she has been singled out for mistreatment."
In deciding on the prison sentence, Gerein noted the accused were in a position of trust, the mistreatment was "severe and protracted," and that there was neither an explanation offered nor a believable expression of remorse from either.
"The victim, a two-year-old child, must have gone through hell," he wrote. "She was incapable of physical resistance. She could not fend for herself. She could not flee. She could not turn to someone for help. She was a prisoner of the accused and totally at their mercy, which was totally lacking towards her. A person looking at the event is bound to feel a sense of horror."
Gerein noted the girl, now seven, is reportedly doing well in foster care.
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