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Serenity’s caregivers facing criminal charge

WATCH ABOVE: Chief Supt. George Stephensen with RCMP "K" Division said the investigation into Serenity's death was complex. He added that his thoughts are with the young girl's family and those who knew her.

Editor’s note: This story originally said the man and woman each faced a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life. However, the man and woman were jointly charged. This story also originally indicated Serenity died while in kinship care. However, on Friday night, Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services clarified that although it was through the kinship care program that she was put in the care of the man and woman now facing charges, they were later given permanent guardianship, meaning Serenity was no longer in kinship care. It was at some point after this development that Serenity died. 

The caregivers of a four-year-old girl who died in 2014 after being in kinship care in Alberta are facing a criminal charge.

A 55-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman were jointly charged with one count of failing to provide the necessaries of life.

“There is no doubt in my mind, and I’m sure in yours as well, that this is a very difficult time for the family and the community,” Chief Supt. George Stephensen with RCMP “K” Division said Friday.

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“This has been and continues to be a very difficult time for all who knew Serenity and we feel her loss. Our thoughts are with them today.”

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WATCH: Criminal charges have been laid against two people in the case of Serenity.

Caregivers charged in Alberta girl’s death
Caregivers charged in Alberta girl’s death

Serenity died in Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital in September 2014 after she was admitted with a head injury.

According to the Edmonton Journal, hospital staff noted she had bruises all over her body, including her pubic and genital area. Global News has not been able to independently verify these claims. A report by Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate also said doctors noted Serenity had bruises at various stages of healing and was “significantly underweight.”

Serenity’s mother took pictures of her daughter on a cellphone camera about four days before she died. She weighed just 18 pounds.

READ MORE: Mother of 4-year-old Alberta girl who died after being in kinship care speaks out

Watch below: Criminal charges have been laid in the case of Serenity, a four-year-old Alberta girl who died in kinship care three years ago. Julia Wong reports.

Charges laid in case of Alberta girl who died in kinship care
Charges laid in case of Alberta girl who died in kinship care

Serenity’s mother told Global News in December 2016 that the girl and her two older siblings were taken away from her after she was assaulted by Serenity’s father. After spending a brief time in the foster system, the children were left in the care of family members under the kinship care program.

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News of Serenity’s death emerged in late 2016 when Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate called for better safeguards in kinship placements. Stephensen said it took until now for charges to be laid due to the complexity of the investigation.

“This investigation would be, in my opinion, one of the most complex investigations that we’ve done in a long period of time,” he explained.

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“Complexities of the investigation include the amount of time it takes to gather the proper documentation by the RCMP, to assess the evidence and provide it to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision.”

READ MORE: Alberta’s child advocate calls on province to do more to protect kids

Serenity’s father, who cannot be named because he has other children in care, said he learned of the charges early Friday morning.

“[Police] showed up at my house, at like 2:30 a.m., and they basically told me who was getting charged with what happened to my daughter,” he said.

“My thoughts were relief. But at the same time, it’s been a part of my life I’ve been struggling with. I still never got over it, right? Because that was my baby, right?”

He said he had never met the two accused and admits his emotions have overwhelmed him. He also concedes it took a long time for charges to be laid.

“It’s a little bit late… it took them almost three years to get it.”

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Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley released a statement, which read in part:

“Albertans were heartbroken when they first heard Serenity’s tragic story,” the statement read. “Three years is a long time to wait for a family who has already suffered such heartbreaking loss. And we know that Serenity’s family, and Albertans, want answers.”

Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service Division, spoke alongside the RCMP on Friday, citing the amount of publicity in the case.

“The charges against these two follow a thorough review of the evidence and a close analysis of the law by the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service,” he said.

Watch below: Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service Division, speaks about the role of the Crown in Serenity’s case. 

The role of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service in Serenity’s case
The role of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service in Serenity’s case

The man and woman who have been charged made a brief court appearance on Friday morning where they were released on bail under a number of conditions.

The conditions include restrictions on where they live and who they have contact with. The man and woman are to appear in court as required and surrender their passports and other travel documents. There are also restrictions, with certain exceptions, dealing with the presence of people under the age of 18 in their home.

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Stephensen said there are no children under the age of 18 currently living with the man and woman charged in the case.

READ MORE: Mother of young Alberta girl who died shares photos of her final days

The official cause of Serenity’s death has not been released and RCMP said it would not be released at this time as the matter is before the court.

RCMP do not anticipate laying any further charges at this time.

The man and woman are scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 9.

Note for readers: Alberta law protects the names of children in the care of the province. Two of Serenity’s siblings were also in care in the same home at the time of her death. To avoid identifying these children and to ensure details of this case can be reported thoroughly and transparently, Global News is unable to report the names of the accused in this case.

With files from Julia Wong, Global News.