WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge had harsh words Wednesday as he asked why no one stepped in to prevent the lengthy neglect and abuse that left a 21-month-old girl malnourished, suffering from untreated injuries and finally dead from a beating by her mother.
“The flags were there that this child was in danger,” Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin said as he sentenced Vanessa Lynn Bushie to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years.
Martin referred to the expression that it takes a village to raise a child.
“I’m left looking at this situation … and say to myself, ‘Where the hell was this village?”’
Bushie, 39, pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree murder in the July 2014 death of her daughter Kierra Williams on the Peguis First Nation north of Winnipeg.
I’m left looking at this situation … and say to myself, ‘Where the hell was this village?’Justice Chris Martin
Court heard Kierra was seized at birth by child welfare workers due to concerns about possible domestic violence in the family home, and spent most of the first year of her life happy and healthy in foster care.
In the summer of 2013, she was returned to Bushie and Bushie’s husband, Daniel Williams, who is to stand trial next February on a charge of manslaughter.
There were other children in the home, Bushie was overwhelmed and young Kierra would not stop crying.
“The baby would not eat either,” defence lawyer Mike Cook told court.
“Kierra would cry non-stop. (Bushie) tried to bond with Kierra but she could not.”
Child and Family Services monitored the family for a few months after Kierra was returned, but eventually closed her file and decided all was well, Cook added, despite Bushie asking for more support.
Toddler beaten and made to sleep on the floor
Older children in the home had told a preliminary inquiry that in the months leading up to Kierra’s death, Bushie would hit the girl in the head and buttocks, throw her violently on the ground and make her sleep on the hard floor.
Broken bones went untreated and a nasty outbreak of eczema was so bad it caused part of the girl’s nose to wither, court was told.
On July 17, 2014, Kierra was rushed by ambulance to hospital where she died. An autopsy revealed more than a dozen broken ribs, a lacerated liver and spleen. The girl was so malnourished she weighed less when she died than when she was returned to her family the previous summer.
The cause of death was severe abdominal blunt force trauma and internal blood loss.
Mother abused throughout her life
Cook said Bushie was herself a victim of abuse as a child — sexually violated by a relative at age 6 and sexually assaulted at age 12 by a man who threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone. Bushie’s family moved around between different First Nations often, her father was murdered when she was 16 and she was in a string of abusive relationships after that, Cook said.
“She endured beatings and abuse for a long, long time.”
Bushie sat quietly during the court hearing, one hand pressed against her forehead. She clutched a tissue and occasionally wiped her eyes with it.
When asked whether she wanted to address the court, “No, your honour” was her reply.
She endured beatings and abuse for a long, long time.Mike Cook, defence lawyer
The Crown and defence jointly recommended the life sentence with no chance of parole for 14 years. Martin accepted the recommendation, and pointed out that even after 14 years, Bushie would have to earn her release and would be governed by the parole board for the rest of her life.
“It’s distressing … that these cases are unusual but not unheard of,” Martin said, referring to several cases the Crown and defence had submitted as sentencing precedents.
Manitoba has seen several high-profile deaths of children who had been through the child welfare system.
The most notorious was that of Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old girl who suffered horrific abuse and neglect before a fatal beating at the hands of her mother and mother’s boyfriend, both later given life sentences for first-degree murder.
A public inquiry into the case found social workers closed Phoenix’s file without laying eyes on her and were unaware her mother’s boyfriend had a lengthy record of domestic violence.
Phoenix’s death went undetected for nine months.
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Author: Steve Lambert / Canadian Press