A lawyer for one of two caregivers for a four-year-old Indigenous girl who died says charges should never have been laid against them and a publication ban should be lifted from a report on the child’s death.
The Alberta Crown stayed charges Tuesday against the relatives of the girl known as Serenity, who lived on a reserve in the central Alberta community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.
The man and woman were each accused in 2017 of failing to provide the necessaries of life for the girl, although the charges were not related to her death.
“These charges should not have been brought in the first place,” Robert Lee, lawyer for one of the caregivers, said Wednesday. “They’re false allegations that have been allowed by the government to remain in the public domain when they know it’s false.”
Serenity had a severe brain injury when she was taken to hospital in September, 2014. Doctors noticed she was underweight and had multiple bruises. She remained on life support for about a week before she died.
The Crown said it decided to stay the charges after reassessing evidence from a preliminary hearing and determining that there was no reasonable likelihood of convictions.
Mr. Lee said his client’s life has been on hold since Serenity’s death. He said the woman lost her job and has been shunned by many in her community. “My client has been portrayed in a very misleading way as being criminal, when she was simply trying to take care of three children.”
Mr. Lee said he wants a publication ban lifted on a report done on the case. His client may apply to the court for that or wait for a fatality inquiry, he said.
“Once that publication ban is lifted and all of the truth comes out, the focus is not going to be on my client,” he said. “The focus is going to be on child welfare, the mistake that they made and the false information that has been allowed by the government to be put out in the press.”
When the charges were laid in 2017, the RCMP said that they were related to the circumstances in which the child lived and that the injury that caused her death was not criminal in nature.
That same year, the United Conservatives, who were in opposition at the time, introduced a private member’s bill dubbed Serenity’s Law. It called for adults to report to police any child who needed intervention. The bill did not pass.
The case also prompted the former NDP government to propose legislation last October that would see First Nations notified if social workers were thinking of removing an Indigenous child from a family’s care. Alberta has about 10,000 children in care; about 60 per cent are from First Nations.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has said the United Conservative government was not involved in the decision to stay the charges.
The Crown has one year to potentially reinstate the charges and there is continuing related litigation and a pending fatality inquiry.
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