Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A system that puts children's safety last

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Here are a few quick facts for your consideration:

The maximum sentence in the Canadian Criminal Code for corrupting a child is two years.

The maximum sentence for perjury is 14 years.

The maximum sentence for public mischief is five years.

The maximum sentence for cattle theft is 10 years.

The maximum sentence for breaking into an empty house is life in prison.

Ponder that for a minute and then consider the case of the Winnipeg mother of two who was convicted of corrupting her own children this week.

In this case, her little girls were living in an inner-city crack house filled with dirt, animal feces and garbage. There was no food. Both the front and back doors had been barred with lumber. The kids slept on the floor next to a litter box.

As court reporter Mike McIntyre eloquently detailed yesterday, the situation was so appalling that a drug user who frequented the house tipped off police.

Try to imagine how disgusting conditions must have been if an addict looking for his next fix was repelled by the situation.

When the cops arrived, the children begged them for food. The two girls, who are now 8 and 10, were seized and handed over to Manitoba Child and Family Services.

On Friday, the mother was handed a 15-month conditional sentence. Remember, the maximum sentence was two years, but apparently her offences were on the minor end of the scale.

She doesn't have to jump through too many hoops for the next year -- a 24-hour daily curfew, no unsupervised contact with children, drug and alcohol treatment and counselling.

Here's the kicker: She's now hoping to get her kids back.

Apparently mom's kicked her crack habit. She deeply regrets the loaded, sawed-off shotgun found inside a cooler. The gun belonged to her sister, who is now serving three years for trafficking cocaine from the house and possessing the gun.

In court, the mother's lawyer said his client had a terrible upbringing herself, filled with neglect, abuse and involvement with CFS.

So what?

We're at a crossroads in our child welfare system, a time when offenders are magically transformed into victims and the willy-nilly desire to return damaged children to their families of origin flies in the face of common sense.

This woman exposed her children to daily danger. She guaranteed they'll be damaged for life, no matter if they're shunted from emergency shelter to foster home or, if by some miracle, a stable home has been found for them.

She signed away her rights as a parent the moment she decided to room with her addict sister, a sex-trade worker with an affection for weaponry. The mother put her own addiction ahead of her girls, making their childhood collateral damage.

She's not a mother. Not anymore.

I have written volumes about the challenges of CFS and I expect to write volumes more. But this is a case where a child desperately needs the protection of our child welfare system. This mother shouldn't be allowed to touch these little girls with a 10-foot pole.

She gave up that right.

And when this repugnant case is resolved, can we take a look at a legal system that says public mischief or rustling cattle is a more serious offence than corrupting your own kids?

This country needs to take a hard look at its priorities and demand to know why the safety and security of children is not at the top of the list.

A 15-month conditional sentence? This woman sentenced her own kids to life.

Surely that carries more weight than breaking into a stranger's house or lying under oath. And if it doesn't, what hope is there for children in need of protection?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2008

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