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Katelyn Roberts, executive director of the Sanctum Care Group, stands for a photograph with the under construction site of a hatch meant to host an Angel's Cradle, where newborns can be safely left for care in Saskatoon, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.Liam Richards/The Canadian Press

The discovery of a dead infant in a recycling bin in Saskatoon has prompted a non-profit agency to move ahead with its plan for a safe place for women to anonymously give up newborns.

Katelyn Roberts is executive director of Sanctum Care Group, which operates a home for pregnant women who are HIV positive or at-risk of having their babies apprehended because of addictions or homelessness.

The agency announced plans in September to offer a private space at the home where women could leave infants without having to provide identification.

Roberts says Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services didn’t support the initiative and requested that it be put on hold to review whether the service was needed in the city.

Sanctum Care is still waiting for a decision but, in light of last week’s discovery, feels it’s time to move ahead on its own, Roberts says. She hopes the ministry will be supportive.

“We do know that mothers in distress sometimes unsafely abandon their children because they don’t feel that have any other option,” Roberts said Wednesday.

“Because there currently is no way in our city to safely and anonymously relinquish care of your child, we felt it necessary to fill that gap.”

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said he believes the group wants to work with government and he hopes to meet with its board.

He wouldn’t state his position, but said he had heard concerns from the Saskatoon Tribal Council that an infant might not be able to have a connection to its community if anonymously abandoned.

Authorities want to collect as much information as they can about an infant coming into care, said Merriman, who added they want to focus on preventing newborns from being abandoned in the first place.

“If a mother or a father decides to make this decision, social services is an option, hospitals are an option, police stations, and we’re also working with fire departments to see if that’s an option. It’s not like there aren’t options out there,” he said.

Merriman said similar programs in Edmonton and Vancouver have only seen two babies dropped off at each one in nine years.

Police have said they believe the Saskatoon infant was a newborn. Investigators were still looking for the mother, who they have said may be physically and emotionally vulnerable.

Roberts said Sanctum Care is working hard to make the service available by next year. A woman would be able to place a baby inside a cradle located behind a door that would lock once it was shut. An alarm would alert staff to an infant’s presence.

The baby would be assessed at a hospital and family services would be notified, Roberts said.

It’s considered a crime in Canada to abandon children in a way that exposes them to risk of injury or endangers their life.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the acquittal of a Saskatchewan woman who gave birth in a Walmart bathroom stall and left the newborn in a toilet.

April Halkett was found not guilty in 2009 of abandoning the baby boy two years earlier in the store in Prince Albert, Sask.

She testified at her trial that she didn’t know she was pregnant and left the store because she thought the child, who survived, was dead.

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