EDMONTON — An Alberta man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his role in the death of one of his young twins.
The two-year-old girls were found suffering from injuries and severe malnourishment in their parents’ Edmonton home in 2012.
The smallest girl, weighing just 13 pounds, went into cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma in hospital.
Her father and mother, who cannot be named, fought for several months in court to keep her on life support.
Two Alberta courts agreed that the girl, known as M, should be taken off machines as per the advice of doctors and the Supreme Court refused to step into the debate.
The father also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of the other girl and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Lawyers have not agreed on a sentence, which is to be handed down at a later date.
A trial date for the mother, who still faces several charges including second-degree murder, was originally set for next week, but has been postponed. The woman has changed lawyers several times and it’s not clear when the case may be heard.
The surviving twin, as well as a healthy older brother, were placed in foster care after their parents, both 36, were arrested nearly two years ago. Under Alberta’s child protection laws, the couple cannot be identified.
Court documents from the civil case over M’s medical treatment show that her parents immigrated from Algeria in 2008. The man worked night shifts as a machinist and his wife stayed at home with their three children.
Emergency crews were called to a report of a possible child death at their home on May 25, 2012. Paramedics tried to resuscitate M on the kitchen floor. Police said the girls’ bedroom smelled of urine and consisted of a mattress on the floor with a sheet and two pillows.
The court documents say M was in a more emaciated state than her sister. When she got to hospital, M needed an immediate blood transfusion. She had a bed sore on her back and bruises on her head. X-rays showed she had thinning bones.
Her sister also had bruises of various colours on her head and face and no hair. Her skinny fingers and toes were almost white. Her ribs were sticking out, her belly was small and she weighed 16 pounds. She couldn’t move her legs and hands, was unable to stand and needed help to hold a bottle of milk.
The documents say the mother told police that three days earlier the twins had been playing on the stairs, fell and hit their foreheads. She later noticed that something wasn’t right with M because the girl didn’t want to eat. The woman said she called her husband at work, and he called 911 before driving home.
The parents were initially charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessities of life. Second-degree murder charges were added to the list after M died.
That September, while in custody, the parents argued in court that M should be kept on life support. They cited their Islamic beliefs and love for the girl.
A lawyer appointed to represent the child asked the court to side with her doctors, who agreed she was virtually brain dead and would never wake up. She had suffered repeated bouts of pneumonia and would need many invasive, risky medical procedures just to remain on a breathing machine.
A Court of Queen’s Bench judge cast doubt on the couple’s motives for wanting to keep their daughter alive and ruled she be taken off machines. The Alberta Court of Appeal sided with the lower court, ruling it was in the child’s best interests to let her die.
Lawyers for the parents applied to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay, but a panel of justices rejected the bid. The girl died later that day.
The parents were allowed to attend the girl’s funeral under escort and in handcuffs.