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This article was published 6/12/2016 (1745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Justice officials have dropped charges against a young woman accused of being involved in the prolonged abuse, starvation and killing of her infant sister.
Jasmine Bushie, 23, appeared in court Monday expecting the start of a preliminary hearing on charges of manslaughter and failing to provide necessities of life for her alleged role in the July 2014 death of 21-month-old Kierra Elektra Star Williams on Peguis First Nation.
As the hearing was set to begin, the Crown announced a stay of proceedings would be entered. No explanation was provided on the record.
The Crown proceeded with a preliminary hearing against two other accused. Kierra’s biological mother, Vanessa Bushie, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and failing to provide necessities of life. Kierra’s biological father, Daniel Williams, is charged with manslaughter and failing to provide necessities of life.
None of the allegations has been proven, and they are presumed innocent.
The case, which has drawn comparisons to the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair at the hands of her mother and stepfather, has been shrouded in legal secrecy.
That will continue because of a court-ordered publication ban on evidence heard at the two-week preliminary hearing. A provincial court judge must decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case against the two parents to proceed to trial.
Mike Cook, the lawyer for Vanessa Bushie, told the Free Press Monday there are many key questions surrounding the tragedy.
"The preliminary inquiry will examine the cause of death and… whether the injuries were from accidental causes or intentional trauma," he said.
Cook said he doesn’t believe the decision to drop the case against Jasmine Bushie is part of an immunity deal but is based on a review of the evidence.
It’s possible the Crown or defence lawyers could subpoena Jasmine Bushie to testify, he said.
"Jasmine is Vanessa’s daughter from an earlier relationship. She was in the house at the material time as she was a homemaker for her mom due to (her) mom’s poor health," Cook said.
His client sat quietly in the prisoner’s box throughout Monday’s testimony. Williams, meanwhile, was in the public gallery because he is out on bail. He is Jasmine’s stepfather.
Police have released little information about Kierra’s death. Government officials, community leaders and those who were tasked with protecting her have remained silent.
Justice officials have told the Free Press they expect an inquiry will be called once details are made public.
That could happen years after the trial concludes and any appeals have been heard.
"I should hope there would be (an inquiry). This is Phoenix Sinclair, Part 2," a source said earlier this year.
Phoenix, who had involvement with the child welfare system, suffered months of abuse by her mother and stepfather. Months passed before her death was noticed. Her case has become emblematic of a system in such turmoil it could not protect toddlers from harm by those meant to love them.
As the Free Press has reported, Intertribal Child and Family Services was involved with the family before Kierra’s death. The girl was returned to her birth parents months earlier, although specifics have not been shared publicly by officials.
Her mother, sister and stepdad were arrested in January 2015 after a six-month police investigation. Within hours, the province launched two separate investigations.
Some investigations are automatically launched when children die in care, including a child-abuse investigation, designed in part to determine whether an individual’s name should be placed on the provincial child abuse registry, and another to assess the safety and risk to other children in the home.
The Office of the Children’s Advocate may also investigate if the child was in care or if the family had involvement with a Child and Family Services agency. The child-welfare system typically waits until a criminal investigation is done before opening its own probes. However, the results of both investigations will likely never be made public.
Government officials have confirmed Kierra had a child-welfare file but would not say what kind of services the girl received, from what agency, for how long or whether there are early indications child-protection safeguards failed.
Senior staff at CFS have told the Free Press their review found the agency generally did the right thing in Kierra’s case. The review recommended better training and better assessment but highlighted no systemic failures.
Unlike Phoenix, it would appear Kierra’s name and case barely register with most members of the public. Calls made by the Free Press in the past about her to band leaders in Peguis, social work sources and provincial staff often required an explanation of the case.
The Free Press fought to overturn a publication ban on Kierra’s name.
There has been little outcry from First Nations officials about Kierra’s death, and the board of Intertribal — or the chiefs who appoint them — has offered no explanation, assurances or accountability.
Monday’s preliminary hearing began in a mostly empty courtroom, with the Free Press being the only media outlet in attendance.
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.