Wal-Mart baby abandonment case heard at Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada is today hearing the case of the northern Saskatchewan woman found not guilty of child abandonment after leaving her newborn baby in a Wal-Mart toilet.

Mother gave birth in May 2007 in Prince Albert, Sask., Wal-Mart washroom and left the store

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in the case of the northern Saskatchewan woman found not guilty of child abandonment after leaving her newborn baby in a Wal-Mart toilet.

After hearing from the Crown and the woman's lawyer for several hours Thursday morning, the court adjourned its decision. 

The Crown appealed to the country's top court after the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench acquitted the woman — whose name is covered by a publication ban and has been identified as A.D.H. —  and the province's Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

On May 21, 2007, the then-20-year-old A.D.H. gave birth in a washroom stall at a Prince Albert Wal-Mart and left the store.

Minutes later, shoppers found the baby boy in a toilet. The baby was purple and did not appear to be breathing at first, but thanks to quick action by the store manager and an ambulance crew, he was revived.

Later, A.D.H., was charged with child abandonment. The 2009 trial unveiled disturbing details of the day in question, but also dealt with whether the mother had a guilty mind, was in shock, or knew what she had done when she walked out of the store.

The defence argued she didn't know she was pregnant before she gave birth and afterward thought the baby was dead.

The trial judge ruled that A.D.H., didn't "wilfully" abandon her child and therefore wasn't guilty.

When the Crown appealed to Saskatchewan's highest court, the appeal court disagreed with some of with the trial judge's reasoning but upheld the acquittal, saying A.D.H., was not guilty because even if she had her facts wrong, she had an honest belief the baby wasn't alive.

The Supreme Court can agree with the lower courts, or overturn the acquittal and find her guilty. Another option, which the Crown is requesting, is to order a new trial.

Eugene Meehan, an Ottawa lawyer who tracks Supreme Court cases, says the outcome will impact how judges weigh what an accused was thinking at the time of an offence.

"Is she expected to act the way a reasonable person would act in these circumstances?" he asked. "Or, is the real question, 'What was in her mind as an individual at that point in time?'"

Court heard the baby, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, was hospitalized for a while but later regained his health. He was placed with a family member and A.D.H. was allowed access.

The case was closely followed by people in Saskatchewan. It sparked a debate about whether a "safe harbour" policy was needed to allow abandoned babies to be turned over to the authorities without fear of criminal charges.