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ONTARIO: 'Put down your phones. Get off Facebook', judge urges in sentencing Sudbury mom for toddler's drowning death

Crown blames 'distracted parenting' for child's death
Sudbury courthourse. (File)

A Sudbury woman has been given a 90 day*** intermittent jail sentence after pleading guilty in a “distracted parenting” case that led to the death of her infant son.

The woman's 18-month-old son drowned in the bathtub on Sept. 13, 2017, while she was in another room engaged in an 11-minute Facebook conversation. She pleaded guilty May 6 to failing to provide the necessities of life.

A publication ban imposed in the case prevents the release of the identity of the woman and all other witnesses.

In serving her sentence, the woman has to report to Sudbury Jail every Saturday, beginning Nov. 2, at 9 a.m. She is to remain there until she is released on Sunday at 7 p.m. That will continue until the sentence is complete.

She will also spend two years on probation, part of which requires she not be in the presence of any child under the age of eight unless she's in the presence of a responsible adult. She is also required to have supervised visits with her other children.

Judge John Keast said the court must send a clear message to the parents of young vulnerable children that there will be “serious consequences” to tragedies caused by “distracted parenting.”

“This is a case of distracted parenting,” he said. “There was no urgency or necessity to the Facebook chat. Given the fact a young child is left unsupervised in a bathtub, this 11-minute conversation can only be described as mindless.”

On the day the infant died, the woman and her two children were eating chocolate pancakes. She decided to give them both a bath. After they were in the bath, she noticed only one towel was there, so she went into another room to get a second towel.

She decided to pick up her cellphone, which was charging in that room. She started talking to a friend. She told the court earlier this year that she heard crying and splashing, and when that stopped, she went back into the bathroom to find her younger son lying face up in the bathtub, unresponsive.

A post-mortem examination concluded the cause of death was drowning.

Assistant Crown Attorney Jody Ostapiw said she hopes parents who are constantly distracted by Facebook or other forms of social media will realize it and stop the habit now.

“That's the most important message,” said Ostapiw. “Distracted parenting will not be tolerated. Put down your phones. Get off Facebook until your kids are asleep, give them the proper supervision and attention so tragedies like this don't happen again. I would hope there are no other cases going forward because of a decision like this.”

She said Keast struck the right balance between denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation in handing down his sentence, as there were detailed efforts regarding resources, programming and counselling.

“So to not interfere with those is understandable,” she said.

Keast said while it's clear the mother has been impacted by her son's death, she still hasn't fully taken responsibility for her actions.

“I have no doubt the mother is remorseful for the death of her son,” said Keast. “It has devastated her. It never leaves her mind. It has impacted her very essence as a person. She strongly wishes she could trade places with her son and she is the one that would be deceased and he would be alive.

“However, I do not believe she has taken full responsibility for her actions that led to the death of her son. It took her nine months to admit she spent 11 minutes outside of the bathroom involved in a Facebook dialogue, and she only did so when faced with the reality that she could not deny this fact.”

What was even more disturbing, said Keast, is the fact she released a Facebook video several weeks after her son died in an attempt to set the record straight on what happened. Nowhere in that video did she mention the 11-minute Facebook chat, and she blamed her older child for the death of her younger child.

“Her eventual plea of guilt is an acceptance of the legal realities of her circumstances, but such does not necessarily mean an acceptance of the responsibility of her action,” Keast said.

***An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the length of the woman's sentence. We apologize for the error.


Arron Pickard

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