03/05/2015 11:06 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT

Baby M's Mother Sentence To 15 Years For Abuse Of Twins

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Hand of a 17 month old boy touching glass

EDMONTON - A judge has sentenced an immigrant mother to 15 years for abusing and starving her two-year-old twins before one of them died in hospital, describing her as depressed and overwhelmed by a lonely life in Canada.

Court heard the 37-year-old woman, who can't be named, beat the girls, neglected them and deprived them of food over a prolonged period of time. When paramedics were called to the family's Edmonton home in 2012, the twins weighed 13 and 16 pounds — the size of six-month-old babies.

The mother and father pleaded guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and failing to provide the necessities of life. The man earlier received a similar 15-year prison term. Both received some credit for time spent in custody.

Although court heard the father did not physically injure the girls, he did nothing to help them.

"In my view, a father who is aware of ongoing abuse towards his children and fails to do anything to protect them is equally as culpable as a mother who inflicts the abuse," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin said Friday.

The judge said a psychiatrist didn't have enough information to diagnose the mother with depression or some other mental illness, but she was probably "completely overwhelmed by her circumstances and unable to cope."

"While this may provide some explanation of how and why these tragedies occurred, it is no excuse."

The woman and her husband moved from Algeria in 2008 while she was pregnant with their first child, a boy. They later planned a second pregnancy, but were not expecting twins.

The man worked as a machinist and the woman stayed at home with the three preschoolers. The judge noted that although she attended university in Algeria, she spoke limited English and had no friends or family in Edmonton. She felt isolated, could not drive and was afraid to take the bus.

It was only when one of her daughters stopped breathing that the mother phoned her husband at work and he called an ambulance. The paramedics who arrived were initially confused because they had been told there was a sick toddler, but they could only find what looked like two babies in infant car seats.

When they looked closer, skin was hanging from their pale bodies and their ribs stuck out of their chests. The smallest girl was taken off life-support machines in hospital. The surviving twin, unable to walk or feed herself, was put in foster care with her brother.

Court heard the four-year-old boy was healthy and the home had been well stocked with food.

"It is difficult to understand how one child could have received adequate and proper care while the other children did not," said Macklin. It suggests that the treatment of the girls was "intentional and understood."

Defence lawyer Daryl Royer said outside court that he doesn't expect anyone will feel sorry for his client. But she did love her children, he said.

"It's not the first case we've seen where somebody's become too depressed to care for their own children," said Royer.

"Maybe I'm a little bit chauvinist, but I really believe that a man should have stepped forward and said, 'My wife is going through a very difficult time. We need assistance.' She obviously felt fearful of Canadian society."(The Canadian Press)

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