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Canada’s Highest Court Refuses to Hear Appeal of Suspended Sentence for Mother who killed Newborn Baby

by | Oct 20, 2011

By Dave Andrusko


Katrina Effert is led out of the Edmonton Law Courts by her father on September 9

Without comment, the Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the appeal by prosecutors of a May decision by the Court of Appeal of Alberta in which a woman’s second-degree murder conviction for the death of her baby was found to be an “unreasonable” verdict.  Instead a three-judge panel substituted a conviction for infanticide for Katrina Effert.  The trial judge then gave Effert a suspended sentence and three years probation.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joanne Veit did require that Effert, 25, serve 100 hours of community service.

While there is much dispute over her Effert’s emotional state at the time of the baby’s death, the facts are not in dispute.

In 2005, Effert, then 19, secretly gave birth in her parents’ basement, strangled her baby boy whom she had named “Rodney” with her underwear, and threw his body over a fence into a neighbor’s yard. The legal trail from then until the October 13 decision of Canada’s highest court in long and complicated.

Two juries found her guilty of second-degree murder (in 2006 and 2009). Two times the verdicts were thrown out by provincial appeals courts.  Then in May, a three-judge panel of Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the 2009 murder conviction, ruling that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable,” and replaced it with the much reduced charge of infanticide.

The legal underpinning for Justice Veit’s decision is a model of results-oriented jurisprudence. Canada has no abortion law, thus that must mean, she wrote, that “while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support.”

But to believe that Canadians “accept and sympathize with abortion simply because they accept the status quo of having no federal abortion law is blatantly false,” according Susan Martinuk of the Calgary Herald.

“A 2009 Angus Reid Strategies poll showed that 46 per cent of Canadians believe that abortion should be permitted in all cases. That’s not many Canadians, as the judge asserts — that’s less than half.

“Further, that same poll revealed 92 per cent of Canadians had no idea that our country allows an unborn child to be aborted at any time during gestation — from the moment of conception to the time of birth.

“So only 46 per cent of Canadians support the legal status quo for abortion — and the vast majority (nine out of 10) of them, have no idea what the legal status quo is. Based on her assumptions about Canadians’ support for abortion, Veit appears to be a member of that uninformed majority.”

“Naturally,” according to Veit, “Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother.”

There was a spirited debate between the defense and the prosecution over Effert’s mental condition. Veit sided with the defense, concluding that this was “a classic infanticide case — the killing of a newborn after a hidden pregnancy by a mother who was alone and unsupported.” But according to Patrick Craine of,

“Under Canada’s Criminal Code, a woman who has not “fully recovered” from the effects of birth can be found guilty of the lesser charge of infanticide.  To bring forward the infanticide defense, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, there must be evidence that the woman’s mind was disturbed.

“According to the Crown, the evidence showed Effert was not suffering mental disturbance.  They highlighted the fact that she planned for the birth by getting scissors to cut the umbilical cord and towels, and then hiding in the bathroom in her parents’ basement.  They suggested that she had tried to miscarry the child during pregnancy by smoking and drinking.  She lied during initial police questioning…”

Martinuk places the case in the long-line of increasingly bold defenses of infanticide. She concludes

“This determination that human life somehow has a lesser value when first born is the logical ending to decades of abortion PR, convincing women — and apparently girls — that human life has no value at any time while in the womb. Based on this decision, that devaluation has now been taken one step further in that a child has no value when first born. It makes one wonder where the cut-off date now stands for the state to protect a live child. Will that line soon move to a week? A month?”

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