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Canadian Children's Rights Council - Conseil canadien des droits des enfants

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Pair who caged sons get longer jail terms

Nine months `unfit' sentence, court rules
Mother now gets 5 years, father 4 years


Nine months in jail is a "demonstrably unfit" sentence for a Blackstock couple who beat and caged their adoptive sons, crimes that were "shocking to the conscience of the community" and "cry out for a significant penitentiary sentence," the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.

"The facts as found by the trial judge unequivocally establish the horrendous abuse of two young boys by their parents for more than a decade," Justice Eleanore Cronk wrote on behalf of the court, which set aside the widely criticized sentences yesterday.

In a 3-0 decision, the court sent the mother to prison for five years, and sentenced the father to four years in penitentiary. The provincial reformatory terms imposed by a trial judge last July failed to reflect the gravity of the couple's conduct or their breach of trust in relation to their sons, who were 15 and 14 when they were apprehended in June 2001, the court said.

"The sentences imposed here must clearly signal society's abhorrence and condemnation of the prolonged child abuse inflicted by the respondents," said Cronk, with Justices James MacPherson and Jean-Marc Labrosse in agreement.

"Stated simply, the appalling abusive conduct of the respondents cannot be tolerated and must be met with severe sanction,'' the court said.

The couple, who assumed care of the boys in 1988, pleaded guilty last February to two counts each of forcible confinement, assault with a weapon and failing to provide the necessaries of life. They were sentenced to nine months on July 5. At the time, Justice Donald Halikowski of the Ontario Court of Justice described their treatment of their sons as "barbaric" and tantamount to "near torture," noting the boys had been abused virtually their whole lives until being apprehended by the Childrens' Aid Society in June, 2001.

As young children, they were initially tethered, made to sleep in a dog cage and, later, a locked cage constructed out of cribs. Although their parents did not testify in court, witnesses told Halikowski during a fact-finding hearing earlier this year that the father struck the boys with a slipper while the mother hit them with a shoe horn.

Halikowski concluded the boys suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. Their birth mother abused both alcohol and drugs and enlisted her sister to raise her sons when she was no longer willing to do so herself, the judge said. What started out as a series of misguided but well-intentioned acts to address the hyperactivity and discipline problems stemming from their medical condition descended darkly into abusive behaviour, the judge said.

While Halikowski painted a "heart-wrenching" portrait of the abuse and engaged in a "thoughtful and thorough" review of factors to be taken into account in sentencing, what should have figured prominently in his analysis and sentencing was consideration of the parents' tremendous breach of trust, Cronk said

The couple's "moral blameworthiness" and the seriousness of their crimes were heightened by Halikowski's finding that they knew their conduct was inappropriate, she said.

The court moved swiftly in setting aside the sentences. Yesterday's decision came less than three weeks after the crown's appeal of the sentences was argued in court.

James L. Dubray, executive director of Durham Children's Aid, said "the court has validated the outrage that was expressed by many people across the country when the initial sentence was handed down."