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Guardians charged with neglecting four-year-old girl who later died

EDMONTON — Alberta Mounties have laid charges against relatives of a four-year-old girl, alleging they neglected her after taking over from the government as her legal guardians.
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EDMONTON — Alberta Mounties have laid charges against relatives of a four-year-old girl, alleging they neglected her after taking over from the government as her legal guardians.

Brenda Rabbit, 56, and Clyde Rabbit, 55, each face one count of failing to provide the necessities of life to little Serenity Rabbit, who later died.

The accused from the central Alberta reserve of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, have been released on bail and are to appear in court Nov. 9.

Serenity had a severe brain injury when she was taken to hospital where doctors noticed she was underweight and had multiple bruises. She remained on life support for about a week before she died on Sept. 27, 2014.

Late Friday, Mounties clarified that the charges against the Rabbits were related to the circumstances in which the child lived, noting that the specific injury that caused her death was not criminal in nature.

RCMP Chief Supt. George Stephensen said Friday that he couldn't release many details about the case and defended the length of time it took to get it to court.

"This investigation in my opinion would be one of the most complex investigations that we've done in a long period of time," said Stephensen, who added that the Crown was consulted on what charges should be laid.

"This has been and continues to be a very difficult time for all who knew Serenity and we feel her loss. Our thoughts are with them."

Serenity's death drew criticism and concern when details became public last year. Premier Rachel Notley struck an all-party panel to come up with ways to improve child welfare in the province.

It has been reported that there were delays and secrecy over the girl's autopsy and about police and government investigations. It was also reported that the child and youth advocate's office was denied critical information in examining the case.

Earlier this year, Alberta introduced legislation to increase the power of the advocate to investigate deaths of children in government care.

The aboriginal girl had been with foster parents for two years before she was placed in what is called kinship care, a program that aims to keep children with relatives and maintain ties to their culture and communities. The relatives became her legal guardians and the government had not been involved with her for almost a year.

Serenity's birth mother had raised concerns to social workers that the child was being abused, and wanted her moved back to foster care.

"I'm glad to see charges have finally been laid, but I still have questions as to why it took so long," Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said in a release. "We still don't have clear answers about what went wrong, and we cannot wait for a fatality inquiry to provide those answers."

Clark said he wants assurances that court cases related to the abuse or death of children are not delayed.

United Conservative Party members Jason Nixon and Ric McIver, who are on the province's child-welfare panel, also issued a statement that said they are relieved to finally see charges.

"It's clear that this case was mishandled from the very beginning and we must understand what went wrong in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future. The United Conservatives remain committed to getting answers for Serenity's family and seeing that our broken child intervention system is fixed."

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a statement that Serenity's death was a "call to action — a symbol of why we must never stop doing everything we can to prevent tragedies like this one.

"Three years is a long time to wait for a family who has already suffered such heartbreaking loss. And we know that Serenity's family, and Albertans, want answers."

 

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Serenity was in government care when she died and that Jason Nixon and Ric McIver had been on child-welfare panel; while earlier headlines incorrectly suggested the charges were related to the girl's death



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