A former day home operator was "irresponsible and wrong" for leaving five toddlers alone while she ran errands, but there isn't enough proof that the children were endangered by her actions, a judge ruled on Thursday.
In finding Melissa Suley not guilty on five counts of causing a child to be in need of intervention, provincial court judge Ray Bodnarek said, "I want you to know that my decision in no way condones your actions.
"It's based on the Crown's inability to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt."
On Nov. 30, 2016, Suley was caring for five children under the age of three in her southwest Edmonton home, along with her own two school-age children, according to an agreed statement of facts filed as a court exhibit.
That day, her children had missed the bus to their school. With three toddlers already dropped off, Suley left them unsupervised in playpens in the basement so she could drive her own children to school, a 50-minute trip there and back.
By the time she got home, the mother of a fourth child was waiting at the house.
'The defendant panicked'
The second glitch of the day came when Suley's husband called to say he was unable to pick up their children after school, meaning they would need to take the bus home and miss an after-school activity.
Suley put her four charges down for a nap after lunch and left the house again, this time hoping to locate a friend who would watch the children after school. She was gone for 20 minutes.
While she was away, the mother of the fifth child arrived with her toddler in tow for a drop-off. According to the court document, Suley lied to the mom to avoid letting her know she'd left the children alone inside the house.
Suley again left all five children alone soon after, still hoping to find a friend to help out. She decided her children would have to take the bus home after all, but then realized that she had lost track of time and that her own children were likely standing outside in the cold waiting for their father to show up.
At about 4 p.m., "the defendant panicked," according to the agreed statement of facts. "She placed the ... children unsupervised in playpens in the basement and she drove to pick up her own children."
Police were called
Not long after, day home parents arrived to pick up their children but the house was dark and no one answered the door. They called police.
At 4:24 p.m., Suley's husband came home. At 4:39 p.m., the police arrived. And just before 6 p.m., almost two hours after she'd left, Suley finally returned to the house.
'(She) made a very bad decision to leave the children unsupervised.' - Judge Ray Bodnarek
A few days later, Suley admitted to police that what she did was "not right" and that she "was not thinking straight at the time."
The children had been left alone four times that day, for a total of one hour and 40 minutes.
The court document states, "None of the children were physically injured during this incident. The children were clean and in good spirits when returned to their parents."
'Does not meet the threshold of endangerment'
Suley was originally charged with five counts of abandoning a child, but those charges were withdrawn by the Crown on Nov. 3 and replaced with five counts under the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act of causing a child to be in need of intervention.
Bodnarek noted, "She was entrusted with the care of five children and she betrayed that trust. ... (She) made a very bad decision to leave the children unsupervised."
But to be convicted, the Crown had to prove the children's security, survival and development were at risk because they were abandoned.
"With the children being left in their playpens," Bodnarek said, "the risk of harm was possible, but not imminent or probable."
He decided it did not meet the legal threshold of endangerment, and acquitted Suley on all charges.
He told Suley, "I hope you've learned a valuable lesson regarding the inappropriateness of your behaviour."
Suley refused comment outside court, but her lawyer, Daniel Mol told CBC News, "Surely my client is relieved, yes."
He wasn't sure if Suley still operates a day home.
When the judge's decision was announced, a woman sitting in the front row of the courtroom began to cry. Based on her comments, it appeared her child was in Suley's home that day.
"It's obvious why I was upset," she told CBC News.
There is a publication ban on the identities of the children who were being cared for by Suley.