A tragic accident that claimed the lives of two children in London, Ont., this past summer has now been thrust into the national spotlight.
On July 25, a vehicle driven by Ruth Burger crashed into a Costco, striking a young family. Addison Hall, six, died as a result of her injuries. Danah McKinnon-Bozek, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and her three-year-old daughter Miah Bozek, were also injured. Danah was rushed to hospital for an emergency C-section, but her infant daughter died about a week following the accident.
Ms. Burger was initially charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, but only one count of criminal negligence causing death. Late last week, London police laid an additional charge of criminal negligence causing death, relating to the death of Ms. McKinnon-Bozek’s infant Rhiannon.
The law is clear: Section 223(2) of the Criminal Code states that “a person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.” This applies to the death of any child who could live outside the mother, even for a brief time.
Some are asking why the police didn’t lay the charges earlier. Perhaps they were unaware the baby had been born alive. If baby Rhiannon had died moments before birth, no charges could have been laid. Maybe the police delayed because they felt the accused was already charged with enough. Or maybe politics played a role. None of that matters. What matters is that the police corrected their error.
The significance of this case will be felt nationwide. Canadians see that our current criminal law defies common sense and scientific fact. They know that it is absurd that had Rhiannon died mere moments before birth, the law would have refused to recognize her existence.
Consider two other cases in Canada. Aysun Sesen, whose husband was charged in 2007 with her murder after he repeatedly stabbed her in the abdomen for not having an abortion, was seven months pregnant. Aysun was rushed to the hospital. Aysun’s fetus still had a heartbeat on the way into the operating room. Doctors working on Aysun performed an emergency C-section, but the fetus was stillborn. Aysun died soon after. But because the baby had died only moments before being delivered, Aysun’s husband was charged with only one count of homicide. There will never be a charge against him in regard to the baby, because the law refuses to recognize that baby’s existence.
Compare that outcome with the case of Bernice Daniels. She also was stabbed in the abdomen, resulting in the premature birth of her child, who lived for only 19 minutes before succumbing to injuries suffered during the attack. Her attacker was eventually convicted of the child’s manslaughter. As medical ethicist Margaret Somerville argued at the time, “it’s pretty bizarre that as long as you make sure the baby is dead in utero there’s absolutely no criminal charge, but if you deliver the baby alive [and it dies soon after] then it’s murder.”
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Canadian law and policymakers continue to bend over backwards to make sure we deny the pre-born child every single possible right. Consider the edict of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who would ban his Members of Parliament from discussing (much less voting for) laws that might, for example, limit such misogynistic horrors as sex-selective abortions. The news out of Brampton, Ont., last week that Ivana Levkovic has again been acquitted in a case involving the disposal of her child’s dead body is an indication that, in order to preserve the “sanctity” of abortion, we have even removed from our pre-born neighbours the dignity of proper treatment after death.
The decision by the London police to lay an additional charge against Ms. Burger is not about pressing the heavy hand of the law down on her. Rather, it is about justice for baby Rhiannon, and the affirmation of her status as a human being who deserved the protection of the law. Perhaps out of the ashes of this terrible tragedy, Canada will wake up to the terrible injustice that our criminal laws perpetrate against the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family.