OTTAWA, January 26, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Two weeks ago the Supreme Court reserved judgment on appeal by the Alberta government for a stiffer sentence against a Calgary mother convicted of murdering two of her newborns in 2008 and 2009, only to have her conviction reduced to infanticide and her sentence to 18 months. Alberta's lawyers also asked the Supreme Court to define the infanticide law to “prevent this defence from being applied across the board to all mothers who kill their newborn children.”
Meredith Borowiec, now 34, said she was too busy to use birth control or even to get free abortions, so at least three times she wrapped her newborns in towels, tied them up in garbage bags, and threw them in a garbage dumpster. Third time unlucky, she was caught in the act by the child's father. The child survived, and she was charged.
After confessing to the two earlier killings, Borowiec was convicted by Alberta juries of second-degree murder, but in 2013 the appeals court reduced the charge to infanticide, which reduces a mother's guilt on the grounds that the pregnancy and birth experience left her mind “disturbed.” She got 18 months in jail – nowhere near the life sentence the Crown wanted, or even the five years maximum for infanticide.
The Alberta attorney general, having seen two previous child killings by other women meet the same fate, appealed this time to the Supreme Court of Canada, seeking to have the 1948 infanticide law rewritten by the Supreme Court, calling it, “vague, outdated and rife with problems.”
The Criminal Code says infanticide happens “when, by commission or omission, a woman causes the death of her newly born child at a time when she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth and her mind is disturbed.”
It was a copy of a 1922 British law designed to make clemency possible for single women coerced into sexual relations (by, for example, their aristocratic employers, who would fire them in disgrace when they got obviously pregnant). Before 1922, capital punishment was mandatory, whatever the circumstances. Critics say that behind the effort at clemency was a sexist view that the judgment of women was impaired by hormones and emotions at the best of times.
In court earlier this month, Julie Morgan argued for the Alberta attorney general that infanticide is being interpreted too widely and too often. The guilty are being let off with a unfairly minor punishment. “In Canada,” reads the province's submission, “a mother can kill her baby with the mens rea [or guilty intent] required for murder and escape conviction for murder as long as there is some evidence that her mind was disturbed as a result of giving birth or lactation.”
In other words, a woman can't murder most people when she is in post-partum depression, but she can certainly murder her own child for a year after giving birth.
Alberta argues that defense lawyers are winning the reduced infanticide charge for their clients on the grounds that the act of killing their children is by itself sufficient evidence of impaired judgment and reduced guilt. The province calls this “a disturbing tautology untethered to logic” by which “no mother would ever be convicted of murder for intentionally killing her newborn child.”
The province wants the Supreme Court to definitively interpret the law, offering this wording: “[a] woman has a disturbed mind if her psychological health is substantially compromised from the effects of giving birth and caring for a newborn.” The Ontario attorney general intervened in Alberta's support.
The women's defense team, along with several intervening feminist rights groups and the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association, countered that Alberta is trying to usurp Parliament's responsibility to make and amend laws. One lawyer, Andrea Serink, dismissed what she called Alberta's “floodgates” argument, arguing that baby killings (which she preferred to call “neonaticides”) were decreasing in number.
Gwen Landolt, a lawyer who serves as national vice president of REAL Women of Canada, says Canada's 28 years of abortion on demand have helped create the current legal laxity with regard to infanticide. “It's absolutely true that because of abortion, this idea has grown that anything that can cause discomfort can be discarded. If you can do it right up to birth, why shouldn't you be able to do it after birth?”
Landolt added that the same attitude that human life can be discarded when it causes discomfort has now been extended by the Supreme Court's euthanasia decision to several vulnerable groups, such as the aged, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the seriously ill. “We're terrified of it. The infanticide law is a loophole that has to be tightened up. Alberta is on the right track.”