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This article was published 20/1/2015 (2387 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A six-year-old child is left alone in his locked bungalow for 90 minutes one summer afternoon, surrounded by food, water and a television to keep him company. The boy suffers no physical harm.
Has any crime occurred?
That's the question a Manitoba judge must answer. The boy's mother is on trial, accused of child abandonment.
Although she admits leaving her son by himself in the summer of 2013 while she ran errands, she has pleaded not guilty to child abandonment.
Under the Criminal Code, the charge is met when a child under the age of 10 is left alone and has his or her "life or health endangered."
And that's where the lines blur, with Crown and defence lawyers having different views of whether that subjective legal test has been met.
"Even in a home environment, that child was endangered," prosecutor Nancy Fazenda argued Monday. "There doesn't necessarily have to be a negative consequence."
She presented a long list of potential tragic scenarios, including turning on a stove element, choking on food, falling down stairs, tumbling out a window, accidentally being electrocuted, burning the house down or falling victim to a burglar.
She also submitted a list of other Canadian cases in which children did get harmed while they were at home alone, showing the risk is real.
"Just because nothing bad happened, that's not the test," said Fazenda.
"This is enough to satisfy the test."
Defence lawyer Michael Law disagreed, saying there must at least be some evidence of potential harm. He noted cases that have attracted convictions in which children were left in cold vehicles, hot vehicles or in the company of items such as weapons, candles and matches.
None of those factors was involved in this case.
"It must be more than purely speculative," said Law.
Although people may question the judgment his client made in leaving her young son alone for a period of time, moral condemnation is not the same as criminal culpability, he argued.
"If you were to convict in this case, you would be bringing the law into a new realm. It would be unprecedented," Law told the judge.
A verdict is expected Feb. 20.
The mother has lost care of her child, who is being raised by his father.
The parents are separated, court was told.
Child and Family Services is also involved in the case, and she hasn't seen the boy since her arrest more than 18 months ago.
"I don't know what CFS will do here (in the future)," Law said Monday.
Fazenda argued another element of the charge has been satisfied by the fact the mother chose to leave the boy alone, rather than responding to an emergency that altered her plans.
"There's no question it was a deliberate act, that she meant to leave the child," said Fazenda.
In one case in Canada, a mother was acquitted when she left her child alone in a home but the child was later found wandering down a street. He was not physically harmed.
In that situation, the woman had a medical emergency, said Fazenda.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.