The prosecution has asked for an 18- to 20-year sentence for a father convicted of systematically starving and abusing his twin daughters.

The father of a little girl, known as "M", pleaded guilty to manslaughter in her death. The child was taken off life support in September 2012 in a case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The girl and her twin, just over two years old at the time, were removed from the family home in May 2012. Child “M” had stopped breathing and had no pulse after she received a blow to the head. She died just over two hours after being removed from life support.

Her sister, “S” was found to have delayed motor skills and was unable to stand without help, but survived the emotional and physical abuse and was made a ward of the province.

Child M Room

The court heard "M" and "S" shared this urine-soaked mattress on the floor while their older brother was given a regular bed and toys. (Edmonton Police)

The couple’s four-year-old son was found to be well-fed and had not been physically abused.

'Starvation of the twins was a choice,' says prosecutor

Video footage of “S” screened in court on Thursday showed the toddler weak and motionless in her crib at first, but weeks later smiling and walking without help.

Crown prosecutor Shelley Bykewich said “S” will "have to eventually deal with the fact her parents chose to care and feed her brother but let her and her twin be physically assaulted and starved."   

Bykewich also noted that food was available in the house, but that the girls’ father did not help them.

"Starvation of the twins was a choice," she said. "He chose not to protect them, nourish them, feed them."

Bykewich told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sheila Greckol the bodies of the toddlers were overwhelming evidence of the father’s guilt.

"They were just infants when they should have been toddlers,” she said, comparing their weight to that of 6-month-olds.

"He chose to do nothing and hide the grave state of his daughters."

"I will live with a heart broken for the rest of my life"

The father wrote a letter to the court. He cried while defence lawyer Peter Royal read his words out loud.  

"I will live with a heart broken for the rest of my life," read the letter. 

"When I saw her at the hospital, I held her and cried for one hour. I was saying sorry and asked her to forgive me." 

The letter continued, saying that when the father saw his daughter at her funeral, she looked different — like she was smiling. He wrote he thought she had forgiven him, not because he was a good father but because "she was a perfect daughter and has a kind heart." 

The father, who came to Canada with his wife from Algeria, wrote that while he didn't want to find an excuse for what he did, he had found it difficult to integrate into a new society. 

"Day after day, month after month, our life became harder to manage and the pressure was going up on us," he wrote. "That pressure pushed me a few times to do not face my responsibilities and my duties towards my family." 

Crown's suggestion "excessive"

Royal called the Crown's recommendation of a 18 to 20-year sentence "grossly excessive." 

Child M Fridge

Crown lawyer Shelley Bykewich said food was available in the home, but argued the twins' parents chose not to give it to the little girls. (Edmonton Police)

Instead, he asked the judge to impose a sentence in the range of 10 to 12 years, to be reduced by three years to take pre-trial custody into account. 

The couple remains in custody. 

The father also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and failure to provide the necessities of life. 

The mother faces a number of charges including second-degree murder. No date has been set for her trial.

The man and woman, both 35, cannot be named under Alberta law because their two surviving children are wards of the province.

The judge will announce her decision on the sentencing for the father on June 11. 

With files from the CBC's Janice Johnston and The Canadian Press