Warning: Some content in this post may be disturbing to some readers.
Family and friends of four-year-old Serenity, who died in 2014, held a small rally Saturday afternoon to call for charges to be reinstated against her guardians.
A man and woman had been jointly charged in 2017 with failing to provide the necessaries of life, not in connection with her death, but with the conditions of her care.
The pair had been ordered to stand trial but the Crown entered a stay of proceedings Tuesday.
None of the individuals involved can be named to protect the identities of Serenity’s two living siblings.
About a dozen people gathered at the steps of the Legislature on Saturday clutching signs with the little girl’s name and photo.
“It’s been a long process. From court hearing to court hearing every few years and then telling me they were…going to get me justice for my children. It just played out as nothing, swept under the rug,” said Serenity’s mother.
“I’m hoping that I can get her justice. That is my hope.”
The case sparked an emergency debate in the Alberta Legislature in 2016 and a report by the Child and Youth Advocate called for, among other things, more comprehensive home assessments and training for caregivers.
In 2017, the United Conservatives, who were in opposition at the time, introduced a private member’s bill dubbed Serenity’s Law. It called for adults to report to police any child who needed intervention. The bill did not pass, but the family is working with the current UCP government to try and pass the bill in the fall.
Guardians acted in “good faith”
In an amended statement of defence in response to a $1.6-million lawsuit filed by Serenity’s mother, the guardians say they acted in “good faith and provided reasonable care and supervision” to Serenity and her two siblings.
They deny the children were not provided with the necessities of life, not provided with a safe and secure living environment and not protected from abuse.
The court filing states Serenity fell off a swing in September 2014, just before her death, and suffered a brain injury. A report by Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate said doctors noted Serenity had bruises at various stages of healing and was “significantly underweight.”
“[The defendants] deny that Serenity died as a result of any of their actions or inactions. Serenity’s death was accidental,” states the statement of defence.
The guardians claim they were told the children, including Serenity, would be separated and adopted into families that were not Aboriginal if they did not take guardianship of them.
The statement of defence further claims the guardians were not given the proper services and supports to care for the children.
“There were almost none because she was almost given no information whatsoever about Serenity’s background… This was a family that was both working full-time and they already had a large family. Then they were given three high-needs children, I couldn’t have handled that.”
The statement of defence further denies the guardians physically, sexually or emotionally abused Serenity and her two siblings. Media reports had cited medical records showing Serenity’s hymen was missing; Global News has not independently verified this information.
The statement claims Alberta Child Welfare, RCMP and hospital staff gave Serenity’s mother “the impression that Serenity was sexually abused and that her injuries were not the result of an accident on the swing.”
“They deny that accusation 1,000 per cent. That is not true,” Lee said.
“They did not do anything that could have caused Serenity’s hymen to be damaged.”
The lawsuit filed by Serenity’s mother, which names the two guardians and the province along with Akamkisipatinaw Ohpikihawasowin Child and Family Services, the Louis Bull Band and the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin Society, alleges Serenity was taken to the hospital in 2014 at “approximately nine kilograms, malnourished, had bruising over her body, back and pelvis and was unresponsive.”
The statement of claim further alleges Serenity and her siblings were repeatedly physically, sexually and emotionally abused by the guardians and their children.
Serenity’s mother is seeking $1.6 million in damages for herself and her two living children.
None of the claims made in the statement of claim or amended statement of defence have been tested in court.
Why charges were stayed
Alberta Justice said evidence called at the preliminary hearing earlier this year led to a reassessment of the case by Crown prosecutors.
“Following that reassessment and consideration by senior officials within the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS), the Crown determined the matter no longer meets the prosecution standard of ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction,’” Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister of the ACPS, said in a statement.
Serenity and her siblings had been living with family members designated through the kinship care program and later given permanent guardianship.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said Tuesday the United Conservative government was not involved in the decision to stay the charges.
“The decision to stay the prosecution was taken independently by the Crown attorneys without any involvement by elected officials.”
Schweitzer said that the Crown has one year to potentially reinstate the charges and that there is a pending fatality inquiry.
–with files from Global News