Skip to main content

A Saskatchewan couple who argued their granddaughter starved because they didn't get enough government aide has been sentenced to three years in prison.

The two accused, who cannot be named, held hands as a judge gave them the sentence in a Regina court Tuesday. The man then turned to his wife and said, "I love you my dear," as they were led away in handcuffs.

The pair were found guilty in February of failing to provide the necessities of life to the girl.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Frank Gerein said in his sentence that the girl, who was two years old at the time, "must have gone through hell."

"She was incapable of physical resistance. She could not fend for herself. She could not flee. She could not turn to someone for help. She was a prisoner of the accused and totally at their mercy, which was totally lacking towards her," Judge Gerein wrote.

"A person looking at the event is bound to feel a sense of horror. To describe the offence as serious is to fall far short of an accurate description."

Court heard the girl was born in British Columbia but was taken away from her drug-addicted mother. The grandparents won custody in 2007.

A family member testified that the girl was kept on a cement floor in a windowless room in the couple's home in the Fort Qu'Appelle area, east of Regina.

There was medical testimony that the girl had a broken collar bone, among other injuries, but there were no records that she had received any medical treatment.

The girl weighed 26 pounds when she was taken from the couple's home in 2008. Three doctors examined her and found that her stomach was distended, her arms and legs were very thin and there was excessive hair on her torso. Their diagnosis was unanimous — malnutrition.

The couple argued the girl's low weight was directly linked to a lack of social assistance from the B.C. and Saskatchewan governments.

Judge Gerein rejected their claims as hollow, noting two other children in the home were fed.

"To describe the conduct of each accused as despicable, deplorable and horrendous is to use adjectives that do not adequately describe the conduct," wrote Judge Gerein. "The accused could not help but see the situation, and yet they did nothing to eliminate or even relieve it. Their attitude and conduct was unbelievable."

The couple, who represented themselves in court, did not suggest what sentence they should receive.

They said their First Nations background should be a consideration in sentencing. They based their arguments on a Criminal Code provision which states a sentencing judge should give special consideration to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

Judge Gerein noted that each of the accused, during their formative years, spent time in homes and communities where there was substance, physical and sexual abuse. Each also spent time in a residential school.

But Judge Gerein said they're adults now and must know right from wrong.

"Anyone with even a minimum intelligence knows that it is wrong to mistreat a child, especially a very young one. That knowledge is instinctive and independent of living conditions in either the past or the present."

Crown prosecutor Mitch Crumley had argued that the couple's aboriginal background is a secondary factor. In sentencing submissions, he said the couple should go to jail for four to five years for their treatment of the girl, who is now seven.

"The message that was sent out today, I think, is loud and clear ... that anyone who has the care of children out there needs to take care of them, needs to look after them," Mr. Crumley said outside the courthouse.

"Children are supposed to be loved and protected. That wasn't done here."