Parents of Alberta girl who nearly died of severe sepsis, pancreatitis sentenced to 1 year

A couple from southern Alberta's Blood Tribe have been sentenced to one year less time already served for failing to provide the necessaries of life.

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The parents of a nine-year-old girl who nearly died of sepsis have been sentenced to one year in jail, less time served for failing to provide the necessaries of life. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A couple from southern Alberta's Blood Tribe have been sentenced to one year less time already served for failing to provide the necessaries of life for their daughter who nearly died of sepsis and pancreatitis when she was nine years old.

The parents, who aren't being named to protect the identity of their daughter, pleaded guilty in May of 2016 to the charges at the Alberta Court of the Queen's Bench in Lethbridge.

The mother, 46, and father, 56, have been together for 16 years. They have three children.

Months of neglect

Their daughter nearly died from sepsis following months of neglect in 2012 and 2013.

She was initially taken to hospital in Cardston, Alta., by ambulance, but when staff realized her fragile state and noted the strong smell coming from her facial abcesses, she was rushed to the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. 

The condition was so severe that the girl's jawbone was visible through the skin on both sides of her mouth. She was anemic, emaciated and the abscesses compromised her airway so much that she needed to be intubated for a week.

She also had a severe blood infection and pancreatitis developed as a result of the sepsis, requiring weeks of treatment.

'No excuse for their conduct'

Justice J.H. Langston said that while he believes both accused are remorseful, he's not sure they truly grasp the gravity of the situation.

"I believe the horror of what happened to their daughter will be ever present in their minds," Langston said as he delivered the sentence.

"All societies and cultures view children as a precious gift. They failed her and there is no excuse for their conduct.

"I am not sure they fully understand this fact."

Doctors say the girl will likely require further medical treatments in future.

An update provided to the court earlier this year said the girl was placed in a kinship home and was doing well. 

Extreme poverty, substance abuse

Crown prosecutor Vaughan Hartigan had asked for 12 to 18 months of jail time for the couple. He told the court on Monday that if it weren't for a report detailing the couple's extreme poverty and struggles with substance abuse, he would have asked for a much more severe sentence. 

A Gladue report — which identifies systemic injustices when sentencing individuals of Indigenous heritage — was ordered before the pair's sentencing.

The reports are meant to address the overpopulation of Indigenous peoples in Canada's prison system. 

The defence attorneys had requested probationary sentences, along with counselling and community programs. 

310 days in jail

Defence attorney Scott Hadford, who represented the girl's father, said while he's not overly satisfied with the sentence, it's not something he necessarily disagrees with. 

"This is one of those situations where it's an accumulation of many, many years. Colonialization, residential schools, things that have taken place in our past that bring us to where we are today, and I certainly support the application of the Gladue principles in the court system as has happened today," Hadford said in an interview with CBC News. 

The court case was delayed multiple times to allow the parents to pursue Indigenous healing programs, but they stopped attending those in May and were taken back into custody in September, which leaves them each to serve 310 days in a provincial jail.

With files from Elissa Carpenter, Sarah Lawrynuik