POLITICS

Wal-Mart baby abandonment case goes to Supreme Court

10/11/2012 11:30 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST
The Supreme Court of Canada is today hearing the case of the northern Saskatchewan woman found not guilty of child abandonment after leaving her newborn baby in a Wal-Mart toilet.

The Crown appealed to the country's top court after the Court of Queen's Bench acquitted the woman, identified as A.D.H., and the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

On May 21, 2007, A.D.H., gave birth in a washroom stall at a Prince Albert Wal-Mart and left the store.

Minutes later, shoppers found the baby boy in a toilet. The baby was purple and did not appear to be breathing at first, but thanks to quick action by the store manager and an ambulance crew, he was revived.

Later, A.D.H., was charged with child abandonment. The trial unveiled disturbing details of the day in question, but also dealt with whether the mother had a guilty mind, was in shock, or knew what she had done when she walked out of the store.

The defence argued she didn't know she was pregnant before she gave birth and afterward thought the baby was dead.

The trial judge ruled that A.D.H., didn't "wilfully" abandon her child and therefore wasn't guilty.

When the Crown appealed to Saskatchewan's highest court, the appeal court disagreed with some of with the trial judge's reasoning but upheld the acquittal, saying A.D.H., was not guilty because even if she had her facts wrong, she had an honest belief the baby wasn't alive.

Eugene Meehan, an Ottawa lawyer who tracks Supreme Court cases, says the outcome will impact how judges weigh what an accused was thinking at the time of an offence.

"Is she expected to act the way a reasonable person would act in these circumstances?" he asked. "Or, is the real question, 'What was in her mind as an individual at that point in time?'"

Court heard the baby, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, was hospitalized for a while but today is healthy.

The case was closely followed by people in Saskatchewan. It sparked a debate about whether a "safe harbour" policy was needed to allow abandoned babies to be turned over to the authorities without fear of criminal charges.