The tragic story of Child M drew to a close today when the girl's mother was sentenced to 15 years in prison for starving and beating her twin daughters.
As Judge Eric Macklin read his 17-page decision before a packed Edmonton courthouse, his words were translated into Arabic so the 37-year-old woman could understand the gravity of what she had done and the punishment meted out by the court.
"It is difficult to conceptualize and verbalize the horrific acts to which these innocent children were subjected," Macklin said in his ruling.
"It is also difficult to conceive of a more egregious breach of trust," he said, than to abuse helpless children over the course of many months, and to deprive them of food and the comforts and care that normally come from a nurturing home.
"These forms of abuse against innocent children shock the public conscience," he said.
Son well cared for while girls starved
At the time of her arrest in June 2012, the woman had twin daughters, 27 months old, and a four-year-old son. While the girls were little more than skin and bones and could not walk or even stand up, and covered with bruises and scratches, the son was healthy and well-fed.
"It is difficult to understand," the judge said, "how one child could have received adequate and proper care while the other children did not. [The son's] healthy condition is evidence that [the mother] had the ability to properly care for children, and also suggests that [her] treatment of [the twin girls] was intentional and understood."
The abuse only stopped, the judge said, because Child M went into cardiac arrest and her parents called 911, which brought paramedics, firefighters and ultimately the police to the family's townhouse.
Had Child M not stopped breathing that night, had her heart not stopped beating, her twin sister might also have died, eventually, from the prolonged abuse the girls suffered, Macklin said.
In court earlier this week, a social worker called this the "worst case of neglect and mistreatment any of us had witnessed in our careers."
The Crown had asked for a sentence of 23 to 25 years. The defence asked the judge to show mercy and have empathy for the woman.
In the end, Macklin gave both parents the same sentence — 15 years in prison. With 49½ months taken off her sentence as credit for time already served, the mother faces another 10 years and 10 months in prison. The judge also ruled that she will have no contact or communication with her surviving children during that time.
The day she was taken to hospital, on May 12, 2012, Child M was unconscious, had no pulse, and wasn't breathing. She was severely emaciated and covered with scratches and bruises.
The 27-month-old girl weighed 13 pounds, four ounces.
Her twin sister was also emaciated and had suffered severe injuries. The couple's four-year-old son was healthy and appeared well cared for. Both surviving children are now living with other caregivers.
Despite the condition in which Child M and her sister were found, the mother initially told a detective her daughters were well-fed and explained their injuries by saying they had fallen down the stairs while playing.
On June 12, 2012, police arrested both parents. They were charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Three months after Child M was hospitalized, after a lengthy legal battle, the Alberta Court of Appeal ordered that the little girl be taken off life-support, against her parents' wishes.
She died on Sept. 20, 2012, and her parents' assault charges were upgraded to manslaughter.
Deportation likely after sentences served
Last April, the father pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The judge at the time called the case "a crime of inhumanity to small children."
The mother pleaded guilty to her charges. Macklin said the parents will likely be deported to Algeria once they're released from prison.
Had a full trial been held in this case, the judge said Friday, the evidence would likely have "shocked" the public.
Under Canadian law, the parents cannot be named in order to protect the identities of their children.
The mother apologized in court earlier this week.
"It's easy for anybody to say I'm sorry,” she said in Arabic, her words translated into English. “But today I'm stating my sorrow. I feel great remorse. After all this, my kids represent everything to me. I always wanted them to be the best they could be.”
"I have no doubt as to the sincerity of her comments or her remorse," Macklin said Friday.
But at one point during this week's sentencing hearing, the judge stopped proceedings to ask what led to the dysfunctional relationship between the mother and her little girls, given that there was no evidence the woman had any psychological problems.
Crown prosecutor Shelley Bykewich said at the time: “Every once in a while, there comes along a crime so horrific that a person with any empathy simply cannot fathom it.”