This is the news story right now in Quebec, (in addition to the Grand Prix in Montreal), a terrible tale of a teen mom who stepped outside two days ago for a cigarette — to protect her newborn from second-hand smoke — in which time her two huskies attacked and killed the child. She lives in a small town about 40 miles east of Montreal.
She has already been charged with manslaughter by the Crown Attorney, (Canada’s version of a DA), prompting howls of outrage in the Gazette letters page and even an editorial in the Toronto-based, national Globe and Mail:
Parents who make mistakes are probably the norm, rather than an exception. Momentary lapses are common. Sometimes, babies and small children die as a result. They fall into hot tubs and drown. They wade out beyond their competence into lakes and drown. They fall off farm machinery. They are asphyxiated when sharing a bed with a parent. They fall out of windows.
It is rare that charges of manslaughter are laid in those deaths. Manslaughter requires a foreseeable risk of injury, and a marked departure from the standard of reasonable person. “The momentary lapse that a reasonable person would engage in is not meant to be caught by the criminal law,” says Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta Law School. A marked departure implies gross negligence – “the absolutely egregious conduct that no reasonable person would engage in.”
There is some dispute about the facts…Her family says she was outside briefly; the police concluded after a short investigation (they charged her one day after the death) that she was outside for 20 minutes…
The state does not need to exact justice every time a child dies an accidental death, even where a parental lapse in judgment led to it. A grieving mother now needs to defend herself against a charge that her wrongful conduct killed her own baby. For a parent, the death of a baby is an excruciating punishment from which there is no parole. In the circumstances of this case, it is hard to see how laying a manslaughter charge serves the public interest.
Several of the letters in the Montreal Gazette raise the question of the mother’s age and likely low ncome — if she were 25 or 35, not 17 — would she have been charged, and so quickly?