Father of girls who froze to death gets sentencing circle

A judge has granted a sentencing circle for the Saskatchewan man whose two daughters froze to death last year.

A judge has granted a sentencing circle for the Saskatchewan man whose two daughters froze to death on Yellow Quill First Nation last year.

The hearing for Christopher Pauchay will be held in nearby Rose Valley, Sask., provincial court Judge Barry Morgan ruled Wednesday.

Pauchay, 25, has pleaded guilty to criminal negligence for his role in the freezing deaths of his young daughters in January 2008.

Kaydance, 3, and Santana, 15 months, died of hypothermia after being left in a snowy field near Pauchay's house. The girls had been left in his care that weekend, following an argument between Pauchay and their mother.

Temperatures at the time felt like –50 C with the wind chill. Pauchay ended up in hospital after showing up at a neighbour's house without the girls.

When searchers found their frozen bodies, the girls were dressed only in diapers and light clothing. Marks in the snow suggested Pauchay had fallen down 11 times.

After having bought beer and liquor and calling on a relative to drink with him, it was "common knowledge" that Pauchay was intoxicated that night, Morgan said in his 15-page ruling.

The Crown is seeking a prison sentence of 2½ to 5 years.

But last month, Pauchay asked for a sentencing circle in his home community, in front of his neighbours and peers. The Crown was opposed.

In his ruling, Morgan agreed it would be an appropriate method of sentencing and said it will provide him with more information about Pauchay's background, which he needs to make a decision.

Pauchay has 51 previous criminal convictions, including 16 for failing to comply with court orders.

A sentencing circle is typically held in cases involving aboriginal offenders. Members of the community, aboriginal elders, and sometimes family members of the victim and the offender come together to make sentencing recommendations to the judge.

All sides will return to court Jan. 27 to set a date for the sentencing circle.

Circle will be open to public

Morgan rejected a request to hold the sentencing circle on the reserve. He also rejected a call by some people on the reserve to ban the media from the proceedings. The circle will be open to the public, he said.

The Crown wasn't immediately available for comment.

Pauchay's lawyer, Ron Piche, was pleased with the decision, saying it's in keeping with the justice system's tradition of embracing a "restorative" approach.

"It does add another layer to that history of sentencing circles in the province and I think it's something that the province ought to be proud of," he said.

The ruling comes as a relief to the community, Yellow Quill First Nation Chief Larry Cachene said.

Cachene is hopeful it's a sign Pauchay will not be sent to prison.

"We do have a real opportunity to help the family to move on and heal through this whole process," he said. "Jail is just going to be more of a punishment to the entire family."

The deaths of the girls made headlines across Canada and cast a harsh light on social conditions on the reserve, which is about  270 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.