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Christopher Pauchay, the father of two girls who froze to death, leaves court in Rose Valley, Sask., Monday after pleading guilty to criminal negligence causing death. ((Geoff Howe/Canadian Press))

A man from Saskatchewan's Yellow Quill First Nation has pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death for allowing his two young daughters to freeze to death in a snowy field earlier this year.

Christopher Pauchay, 24, previously pleaded not guilty to the charge in a case that made headlines across Canada after three-year-old Kaydance and one-year-old Santana Pauchay disappeared on a freezing night on the reserve, about 280 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

Pauchay changed his plea to guilty Monday as he was scheduled to go on trial before a provincial court judge in Rose Valley, close to the reserve.

Defence lawyer Ron Piche is asking for a sentencing circle for Pauchay. The circle involves people from the community meeting with the offender and considering the facts of the case, and then recommending a sentence to the judge.

The case has been adjourned until Dec. 5 for a sentencing hearing. It's expected at that time Piche will apply for a sentencing circle.

Piche said he'll argue for a conditional sentence that could be served in the community. The Crown said it wants Pauchay to serve prison time, which would mean a sentence of at least two years. 

Alcohol abuse a problem

The death of the two sisters threw a harsh light on social conditions on the reserve, where some residents said alcohol abuse has long been a problem.

After the girls were reported missing, the community of Yellow Quill worked with police to search for them.

In weather that felt like -40 C with the wind chill, one girl's body was found shortly after the search began, and the second girl's body was discovered a day later. Both girls had been dressed in light clothes.

In the days and weeks that followed, the focus shifted to the girls' father. He had been taken to hospital suffering from frostbite and hypothermia before the children were found.

According to relatives, Pauchay had been drinking the night before. He allegedly took his girls into the cold and somehow lost them.

The offence of criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

However, Piche said before the trial that Pauchay was already paying a tough price.

"He's certainly been punished enough in his own mind, as a result of the tragic loss of his daughters."