'I didn't know how to breathe': Orphan abuse trial hears 7-year-old's head held under water

Calgary man pleads guilty in vicious knife attack on woman

The youngest of three orphaned children testified in a Calgary courtroom on Tuesday that when he was seven, his aunt and uncle would get "really, really mad" at him and sometimes hold his head under water as punishment for doing poorly at school.

The child's aunt and uncle are accused of viciously abusing the boy and his older sisters and are on trial for assault with a weapon, among other charges. 

A publication ban has been imposed on the identities of the accused and their alleged victims in order to protect the children.

The boy's siblings — two older sisters — have already testified that their aunt and uncle forced one of the girls to drink her own vomit. The prosecution says the kids were "tortured" with lighters, cold water and barbecue forks. 

Videotaped interview

A videotaped interview between the boy, who was seven years old at the time, and child abuse Det. Grant Straub took place on April 6, 2011 and was played in court on Tuesday.

"Do you feel safe living in this house?" asked Straub, referring to the aunt and uncle's home.

"No," said the boy.

Now 13, the boy sat in a remote witness room at the Calgary Court Centre while his interview with Straub was played for the court. He described his love of playing outside, jumping in piles of leaves and Christmas.

The boy and his sisters survived a car crash in 2006 in the U.S. that killed both their parents. They were adopted shortly after by their aunt and uncle who moved the family to Calgary. 

'Detailed recollection of abuse'

In 2011, the middle sister showed up at school with a bruised and swollen face prompting a counsellor to pull the girl aside and question her.

The girl "gave a detailed recollection of abuse" that she and her siblings had suffered for years, said prosecutor William Tran in his opening statement to Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sandy Park. 

Police and social services became involved and the children were removed from the home and questioned.

"They were being mean to us. My mom gets mad at me and sometimes I go in the bathroom and take a cold shower," the boy told the detective, referring to his aunt. 

The child's oldest siblings explained earlier that being thrown in a cold shower for 10 to 30 minutes was one of the regular punishments.

Head held under water: boy

Aside from being thrown in cold showers, the boy also told the detective his aunt would fill the bathroom sink with water and hold his face underneath, preventing him from breathing.

"I don't know how to breathe in water," the child said.

The uncle's belt was also used to hit the boy on the head, hands and bum, the boy told Straub.

"When I don't do good in my books ... he grabs his belt and he hits me."

Court also saw photos of one of the boy's sisters who had dozens of tiny scars on her stomach and back that she said were made when she was stabbed with a barbecue fork. 

Under cross-examination by defence lawyers Karen Molle and Kelsey Sitar, the boy admitted he didn't remember much, if any, of the abuses he told police he suffered more than six years ago.

The six-year-old video statements by the children are being heard in a voir dire — a hearing to determine the admissibility of the evidence which the judge will rule on later this month.

The trial was supposed to wrap up at the end of this week but will now continue later this spring.