Serenity's guardians charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life

The legal guardians of an Alberta girl named Serenity who died in 2014 from injuries incurred while living with them are facing criminal charges.

'I've been waiting to hear that for three years so it really ... hit my heart,' girl's mother says

Serenity was four years old when she died of severe head trauma in an Edmonton hospital. (Supplied)

The legal guardians of an Alberta girl named Serenity who died in 2014 from injuries incurred while living with them are facing criminal charges.

A man and a woman each face one count of failing to provide the necessaries of life to the girl between May 3, 2013 and Sept. 18, 2014.

The charges were laid Oct. 5.

At a news conference Friday, RCMP said no further charges are pending.

"The evidence that was gathered was presented for the Crown Prosecution Service, who would determine that these were the charges that we're facing here today," RCMP Supt. George Stephensen said. 

When asked if the case had ever been treated as a homicide, Stephensen replied, "the evidence that we have before us is the necessities of life."

Four-year-old Serenity had been in living in a kinship placement with her relatives on a central Alberta reserve.

Despite repeated reports of abuse, full legal guardianship of Serenity and her two siblings had been awarded to her kinship caregivers, one year before she was admitted to hospital in September 2014.

She was suffering from catastrophic injuries, including a fractured skull and starvation. She was hypothermic. There were signs of sexual abuse. 

She died four days later, on Sept. 27, 2014.

Serenity's caregivers said at the time she had fallen from a tire swing. But a forensic pediatrician determined her injuries were inconsistent with a fall.

A fatality inquiry has been ordered into her death once the criminal investigation has concluded.

'They could have done more'

In an interview Friday with CBC News, Serenity's mother said she is relieved that charges have been laid.

"I've been waiting to hear that for three years so it really hit home, really hit my heart. It was a really emotional day," she said.

She said RCMP visited her at her home Thursday night and told her that charges would finally be laid in the case. The Crown prosecutor said there would be no further charges pursued in the case due to a lack of evidence, she said.

She remains frustrated with the investigation. She wants the accused couple to face charges for the alleged abuse of her two other children. 

"I'm thankful, but in a way, I'm disappointed because they say there is not enough evidence to charge them with the abuse of my two older children," she said.

"There was report after report made by workers about my children. I don't know what more evidence they need but I feel that they could have done more."
This photo of Serenity, taken by her mother, shows how thin the 4-year-old had become. She died several days after this photo was taken in September 2014. (Supplied)
Serenity's mother said she continues to wonder why it took more than three years for RCMP to level charges against her daughter's former caregivers. 

"They say that they had to do a lot of paper shuffling and looking into things, but from what I know, they didn't start looking into anything until I went to the news," she said. 

If convicted, Serenity's caregivers could face a maximum prison term of five years.

Released on bail

The couple was released on bail Friday under several conditions. The two must remain living in the same house and surrender their passports or other travel documents.

They are also not allowed to have anyone under the age of 18 years in their home without the written consent of a supervisor.

But that condition comes with exception. According to the bail conditions, the couple is allowed to have a three-year-old girl at their home while her mother is present. The bail conditions also say that two other people under 18 are allowed in the home. 

When asked if children under 18 were living in their home, Stephensen said, "I'm aware that there is not." 

Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley issued a statement Friday about the case.

"As a government, as legislators, and as a society that wants every child to be safe and healthy, we heard Serenity's story as a call to action, a symbol of why we must never stop doing everything we can to prevent tragedies like this one," Ganley said.

"Three years is a long time to wait for a family who has already suffered such heartbreaking loss. And we know that Serenity's family, and Albertans, want answers.

Ganley said the RCMP and the Crown worked diligently on the investigation.

"The proceedings will occur in open court and the last thing I want to do is compromise the integrity of this case, so I will not be commenting further."