Sentencing delayed for Blood Tribe parents charged with failing to provide necessaries of life
WARNING: This story contains graphic details
A couple from southern Alberta's Blood Tribe stood in front of Justice James Langston and entered pleas of guilty to the charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their nine-year-old daughter, who nearly died as a result.
The pair was meant to be sentenced before the Alberta Court of the Queen's Bench on Tuesday but the sentencing hearing has been postponed for six months while the parents complete Indigenous healing programs.
The plea had previously been entered, but needed to be reiterated as a new justice had been assigned to preside over the case.
The couple is not being identified to protect the identity of their daughter.
Unable to provide safe, clean home
The plea involved the couple agreeing to a statement of facts that outlined the 2012 and 2013 events that left their daughter in need of urgent care at Alberta Children's Hospital.
The girl lived in a two-bedroom apartment riddled with mould, along with her other siblings and parents, the court heard.
Her father struggled to find work and the family had come to rely on social assistance that didn't even cover the cost of rent, so providing other basic necessities like food was a struggle.
The child's first health concern included in the file was severe head lice that was left untreated for months. The statement of facts indicated the child wouldn't allow her parents to treat the condition and she was bullying at school as a result, so she stopped attending school.
Emaciated, overwhelming stench
Another concern noted on the record was the father's struggle with addiction. He had sought treatment, and it was when he returned from the treatment centre in June 2013 that he noticed his daughter's appetite had diminished and she complained of mouth pain.
By the end of June, the girl had become gravely ill and was taken to hospital in Cardston, Alta. by ambulance.
"She had a decreased level of consciousness to the point where she was unable to communicate," said Crown prosecutor Vaughan Hartigan.
"There was a very foul smell coming from her facial abscesses that filled the entire emergency room."
The girl was in such a fragile state, battling septic shock, that she was rushed to the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary.
There, a CT scan showed the "extensive abscesses" on both sides of her face.
Her jaw bone was visible through the skin on both sides of her mouth. She was anemic and emaciated from being unable to eat properly. Her heart was enlarged and had a murmur. Her airway was compromised by the extent of the abscesses and needed to be intubated for seven days.
The girl underwent weeks of treatment, which included being treated for pancreatitis that developed as a result of the sepsis.
Doctors estimate the issue of degrading dental care and resulting abscesses would have been a problem for weeks or months. While it might have been easy to miss initially, it wouldn't have been later on.
"This was a long and slow process," Hartigan read.
The girl has since been placed in a kinship home and is now in good health, but is expected to need further surgeries and treatment as she gets older. She's also undergone psychological therapy to help her cope with the ordeal.
Meanwhile, her parents have been working through Indigenous healing programs run by the Kainai Peacemaking Program. Coordinator Tony Delaney was in court Tuesday to speak about the couple's progress.
He said they have made great progress but could benefit from more time, which is why sentencing was delayed.
"There's a lot of things as a program we'd like them to participate in," Delaney said.
'They care about their children'
Lois Frank is tasked by Alberta Justice to write Gladue reports before sentencing hearings in criminal trials concerning accused of Indigenous heritage.
Gladue reports contain detailed background information for judges to consider when sentencing aboriginal offenders.
"These people are good people and they care about their children," Frank said before the court.
In an interview with CBC News, Frank said the report can't be overlooked and the circumstances of abject poverty on the Blood Tribe reserve need to be considered.
"Our job is to tell their story because many times people are dehumanized in the system."
The couple is due back in court for sentencing on Sept. 25, 2017.