Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
The Nunavut Court of Appeal handed down a stiffer jail sentence to a mother convicted twice of serious abuse against her young child — and then stayed that sentence.
The decision from a three-judge panel was issued on Wednesday. The judges called it an "exceptional" case, and "very sad from everyone's perspective."
They decided it was better to keep the young mother out of jail, in order to avoid sending her child into foster care.
The woman was convicted of failing to provide the "necessaries of life" and aggravated assault against her five-year-old son in 2017.
"[His] body was covered in bruises and bite marks. He suffered severe internal injuries — a lacerated liver and spleen, a kidney contusion, a fractured rib and an obstructed bowel," the appeal court's decision reads.
"He could not recall the last time he ate," it said.
It was the second conviction against the woman for assaulting her son.
When the boy was two weeks old, "she threw her baby down a flight of stairs, the baby landed on his head, and broke his clavicle," the court said.
She was convicted of assault causing bodily harm in that incident, and in 2012 received a four-month conditional sentence and 18 months of probation.
A conditional sentence is a sentence that is spent in the community instead of jail but the convicted individual must follow conditions — otherwise they may be sent to jail.
In December 2019, Justice Sue Charlesworth sentenced the woman to a three-year suspended sentence for her second assault conviction.
A suspended sentence is when no sentence has been imposed, as long as the convicted individual follows conditions. Otherwise a sentence, including a conditional sentence, may be imposed.
The appeals court decided Charlesworth was too lenient, and instead sentenced the woman to just under two years of jail time, followed by three years probation. The court said it would have imposed a higher sentence had prosecutors at appeal asked for that.
Young mother still has four-year-old at home
The woman has already served the "most arduous part" — six months of house arrest — of her original sentence, her lawyer argued.
Then, in an unusual turn, both prosecutor and defence lawyer agreed that sending the woman to jail would do more harm than good. That's because the woman still has another, four-year-old child at home, and there are no indications of abuse against that child.
The lawyers argued that the negative effects of sending a small child into foster care outweighed whatever good might be gained from sending the woman to prison.
"With considerable reluctance," the appeals court agreed, and stayed the woman's jail sentence.
The court said it was "very much influenced by [the prosecutor's] first-hand account of the limited resources available in the north to care for children ... and the bleak future of those in foster care."
The woman's son has since been adopted by his grandmother, the court said.