'This is an agonizing case': Alberta stays charges in death of Indigenous girl

EDMONTON — The Alberta Crown has stayed charges against two caregivers of a four-year-old Indigenous girl who died.

The relatives of the girl known as Serenity were each charged in 2017 of failing to provide the necessaries of life, although the charges were not related to her death.

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The Crown says it came to the decision after reassessing evidence called at a preliminary hearing and determined there was no reasonable likelihood of getting convictions.

Serenity had a severe brain injury when she was taken to hospital in September 2014 where doctors noticed she was underweight and had multiple bruises.

She remained on life support for about a week before she died.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says the United Conservative government was not involved in the decision to stay the charges.

"This is an agonizing case," Schweitzer said in an email Tuesday.

"The decision to stay the prosecution was taken independently by the Crown attorneys without any involvement by elected officials."

Schweitzer said that the Crown has one year to potentially reinstate the charges and there is ongoing related litigation and a pending fatality inquiry.

When the charges were laid in 2017 the RCMP noted they were related to the circumstances in which the child lived, noting that the specific injury that caused her death was not criminal in nature.

At the time of her death Serenity lived on a reserve in the central Alberta community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.

Last October, her case prompted the then-NDP government to propose legislation that would see First Nations notified if social workers were thinking of removing an Indigenous child from a family's care.

In December 2017, the then Opposition United Conservatives introduced a private member's bill dubbed Serenity's Law.

It called for requiring adults to report to police any child who needs intervention under the threat of six months in jail or a $10,000 fine.

The private member's bill did not pass.

Alberta has about 10,000 children in care; about 60 per cent are from First Nations.

Note to readers: The first two paragraphs in this story have been clarified to make clear the caregivers were not charged in the child's death.

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