Under Canadian law, parents have certain responsibilities to their children. Parents must ensure that they do not deliberately harm their children and that their children are also not harmed through neglect. Section 215 of the Criminal Code contains provisions criminalizing the failure to provide the necessaries of life to children under the age of 16. A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, R v SJ, 2015 ONCA 97, highlights this issue.
In this case, the mother and father of a three year old child, H, were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to H. who was in necessitous circumstances. When H was eight months old, he was sent to live with his grandparents in India. He returned to live with his parents in Canada when he was two years and ten months old. A family friend, who visited the child in India and accompanied him on his trip home, noted that H. looked weak and thin and that his skin was rough and dry. Several months after returning to Canada, H. suffered a seizure and was taken to the Hospital for Sick Children. H. was malnourished, anemic, had low vitamin levels consistent with scurvy, open wounds and scars all over his body. H. and his sister were apprehended by the Peel Children’s Aid Society that same day.
The trial judge found both parents guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to H. and sentenced each parent to six months in jail followed by two years of probation.
The parents appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. The Court found that necessaries of life are to be determined on a case by case basis, but can include ‘food, clothing, shelter, and medical attendance’ [para 50]. The Court found that the standard to which a parent is held is a “marked departure” from that of a reasonably prudent parent. A parent is not required to run to a doctor or hospital whenever illness or the prospect of injury arises [para 54]. A lawful excuse may afford a defence. The Court also found that for a finding of criminal liability, there is no need to establish that the medical attention, if sought, would have been helpful.
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision and dismissed the parents’ appeal.
For more information about the crime of failing to provide the necessaries of life and to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.
To read the full decision in R v SJ click here.