Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Ruling on mother who disposed of newborn’s body set to test Canada’s infanticide law

The Supreme Court of Canada building is seen in Ottawa.

DAVE CHAN/The Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to rule Friday on the fate of mothers who abandon the body of an infant in the belief it was stillborn.

The case raises thorny issues about when an infant in its mother's womb legally becomes "a child."

The defendant in the case, Ivana Levkovic, abandoned the corpse of her newborn outside an apartment in Mississauga in 2006.

Story continues below advertisement

The corpse, wrapped in blankets and placed inside a plastic bag, was later discovered by the apartment superintendent.

Ms. Levkovic was charged with infanticide, a Criminal Code provision which dictates that an individual cannot conceal the birth of a "child," whether it died "before, during or after birth."

At trial, Ms. Levkovic claimed that the baby had been born dead after she accidentally fell, precipitating labour.

She was acquitted, partly because the provision is vaguely worded and partly because the decomposition of the fetus had prevented forensic investigators from establishing whether the infant was dead before birth.

However, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial on the basis that the infanticide section is not unconstitutionally vague.

In arguments before the Supreme Court, lawyers for Ms. Levkovic reiterated that the vagueness of the law violates the Charter right to security of the person. They maintained that it leaves women unable to discern whether they are committing an illegal act if they dispose of a miscarriage.

However, the Ontario Crown countered that individuals cannot simply dispose of a body without notifying the state and allowing officials an opportunity to examine the circumstances of its demise.

Story continues below advertisement

While the outcome could potentially change the definition of when a fetus becomes a human being, the Supreme Court has traditionally steered a wide berth around any decision that could significantly affect the abortion debate.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.