Is leaving a child in a hot parked car a criminal offence?

TORONTO – In the span of a week, two toddlers have died after being left inside parked cars during extreme heat.

Edmonton Police said a three-year-old girl died in hospital Wednesday after being found in a parked car Tuesday evening.

Also on Wednesday, a funeral was being held for a two-year-old Ontario boy who died last week after being left alone in a sweltering car in Milton, west of Toronto.

Edmonton Police say it’s still early in the investigation and they’re not releasing any details.

No charges have been laid in the Milton incident, though homicide detectives are investigating as part of their mandate for any death of a child under the age of five.

Three boys aged 23 months, 3 years and 6 years were also found in a parked car in a South Edmonton Home Depot on Tuesday. Their mother was charged with three counts of ‘wilfully causing a child to be in need of intervention.’

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And last Thursday a two-year-old girl was released from a car in Markham, Ont. after a police officer pried open the door using his baton. Her mother was charged with child abandonment for leaving her daughter in a vehicle with a cracked window during hot temperatures.

Assuming there was no intent to harm the children, there are at least two other potential legal ramifications to the actions of the children’s caregivers.

Legal expert Lorne Honickman cautioned there may not be any further criminal charges laid by police, because each individual case is looked at “on its own facts,” but suggested two other potential charges are criminal negligence causing death (in the fatal cases) or failing to provide the necessaries of life (in any case).

“Criminal negligence requires some sort of conduct that’s what we call a marked and substantial departure from what a reasonably prudent person would do in those circumstances,” he said. “So would a reasonable person ever leave a two-year-old in a hot car with the windows closed?”

He added that this charge would apply even if there was no intent to cause any harm, since the actions resulted in the death of a child.

“Then there’s failing to provide the necessaries of life, and that’s the other potential charge [when] the conduct constitutes a marked departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent person,” he explained. “Failure to provide necessaries may be that they should have known.”
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Police are urging parents and caregivers to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, and Health Canada emphasizes that temperatures inside of vehicles can rise quickly in warm temperatures.

Note: This story has been updated from its original version, published June 27.

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