HALIFAX — Two days after a healthy baby was found abandoned behind a shop on a busy Halifax street, many questions remain about who the child is and how such a thing could happen.
Experts say such cases are extremely rare in Canada. But when it does happen, there can be a multitude of reasons for a parent to give up a child in such a public manner, said Elisa Romano, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa.
Among other things, the child's mother or father may have mental challenges, or they could be dealing with cultural or religious rules that take a dim view of adoption or abortion.
"We can guess that this mom must have been in a lot of distress and must have been feeling quite desperate to give up her baby in such a manner," said Romano, who has focused some of her studies on child maltreatment. "She could have been overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for a child."
As well, the parents could be young and without family support, but Romano said it's impossible to draw any conclusions, given the limited information provided by police since the baby was discovered on Sunday.
Investigators continued their search for the child's parents Tuesday. Spokeswoman Const. Dianne Penfound said police are interviewing potential witnesses and seeking surveillance video in the 6000 block of Quinpool Road, which is lined with smaller retail outlets and restaurants.
As well, Penfound said police are working with the provincial Community Services Department and local hospitals to identify the baby, described by police as African-Canadian and believed to be about a month old.
The infant was found wrapped in a blanket just before 5 p.m., when the temperature was hovering around an unseasonably warm 14 C.
Grant Wilson, president of the Canadian Children's Rights Council, agreed that cases of child abandonment are rare in Canada, and he cautioned against looking to the United States for comparisons.
"We have a totally different health-care system that helps tremendously," he said. "We've lifted children out of living in poverty to a great degree, with a few exceptions."
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, it is illegal to abandon a child under the age of 10 if their life or health is likely to be endangered. But charges are rarely laid in such cases.
In the United States, most states have so-called safe haven laws, which allow parents to legally abandon infants at sanctioned sites.
Wilson said the American model is based on the fact that some low-income women in the United States simply can't afford to give birth in a hospital, which he said can cost about US$10,000 for those without private health insurance.
"We don't need (safe haven laws) in Canada," said Wilson, whose non-profit advocacy group has been around since the early 1990s. "We have very few cases (of child abandonment) because we're not in the same social system."
Still, there are a few Roman Catholic health-care agencies in Canada that provide so-called angel cradle services. There are two hospitals in Edmonton and one in Vancouver that allow parents of newborns to anonymously abandon their infants inside a special receptacle has been built into the wall of the hospital.
Aside from mental illness, religious and cultural issues, Wilson said there are other reasons why a parent may abandon a baby.
He cited the 2007 case of a Saskatchewan woman who gave birth in a Walmart bathroom stall and left the newborn in a toilet because she believed the baby was dead. The woman later testified that she didn't even know she was pregnant, and in 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld her acquittal on a charge of child abandonment.
"It's hard to believe, but that actually does happen," said Wilson.
In February 2007, an 18-year-old student living alone in Saskatoon, Sask., said she didn't know where to turn when she gave birth at home to a baby girl she left on a neighbourhood doorstep hours later. The young woman came forward more than 48 hours after the newborn was found by the homeowners.
The woman told police she chose the house because she saw lights on inside, heard a dog barking and felt comfortable that the baby would be found quickly on the frigid morning. The child was wrapped in a towel and comforter in -29 C weather.
In November 2004, a baby was abandoned at a Vancouver bus stop, where she was found naked in a plastic bag. Despite extensive publicity, no one came forward to claim Baby Jane Doe, who was later adopted.