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30 children killed by their parents in Canada each year, expert says

A recent case of an Ontario mother accused of stabbing her child may seem shocking to the public, but an expert at Western University says it is sadly not an incident that is unheard of in Canada.
Peter Jaffe, a professor in the faculty of education at Western University, said that Canada has seen a long-term problem with parents who have killed their children. (Paul Mayne/Western News)

A recent case of an Ontario mother accused of stabbing her child may seem shocking to the public, but an expert at Western University says it is sadly not an incident that is unheard of in Canada.

Police in London, Ont., have investigated at least two cases this year in which a parent is alleged to have stabbed a young child.

The most recent incident occurred last week, when a six-year-old girl was rushed to hospital with stab wounds to her abdomen. The Grade 1 student was initially in critical condition, but police have since said that she is expected to live. Her mother has been charged with attempted murder, according to police.

That incident came barely five months after a father in London was accused of stabbing his five-year-old daughter.

Peter Jaffe, a professor in the faculty of education at Western University, said that Canada has seen a long-term problem with parents who have killed their children.

"There's approximately 30 cases a year in Canada where parents have killed a child," Jaffe told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

"Each one of these situations is unique and obviously, it's horrific to think about any parent hurting their child in any way, let alone being involved in a homicide," Jaffe said.

'It's very consistent'

Jaffe said the number of parent-child killings in Canada has stayed in this range for many years.

"It's very consistent and there is also consistency looking at gender," Jaffe said.

"Overall, there is about a 60/40 ratio in terms of fathers killing children compared to mothers."

Jaffe said the motivating factors for the for the violence differ, in general, between mothers and fathers.

"With women, it tends to be younger children and it tends to be more a history of mental-health problems," said Jaffe.

"With men, it's usually more in the context of domestic violence. It's often an act of revenge when their partner has left the relationship and it's a way of getting even, or seeking revenge for the separation."

'These tragedies are not inevitable'

In most of these cases, Jaffe said there have been warning signs before the violence occurred.

These can include a separation of two partners, a history of domestic violence, prior threats of harm against a child, as well as mental-health issues.

That's why Jaffe said it is key for other people in that child's life to recognize those warning signs.

When imminent risk of harm is apparent, a call to the police is a necessity, Jaffe said.

In other situations, outreach to the parents can be useful, particularly if they are in need of support or counselling.

Jaffe said the first step is encouraging people to get help. But if things escalate, formal reports may be necessary — including to police or children's aid groups.

"These tragedies are not inevitable, there's things that we can do by reaching out," said Jaffe.