Already charged with attempting to murder her newborn son by tossing him into a dumpster, a 30-year-old Calgary woman is now accused of killing two babies she gave birth to previously, although their bodies haven't been found.
Meredith Katharine Borowiec, who has been in custody since she was charged last week with a number of offences related to the abandoned infant, appeared briefly in provincial court Tuesday morning to answer to two new charges of second-degree murder.
Police allege that Ms. Borowiec gave birth at home to a boy on Oct. 19, 2010, and threw him in a garbage bin outside her northwest apartment. Passersby, including the infant's father, who didn't know his girlfriend was pregnant, rescued the crying child, who didn't suffer any negative consequences from his ordeal.
The baby is not in the custody of his father and has been placed in a "healthy home," said Staff Sergeant Kelly Campbell of Calgary's child abuse unit. She called the year-long investigation that has led to the new charges "very stressful" and "very complex."
"Any time you have a case such as this, it is shocking," she said. "This doesn't happen every day."
But increasingly, experts say, when women have been accused of killing their babies, they have been charged with the more serious offence of murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, and not infanticide, which takes into account mental disturbances as a result of childbirth and has a five-year sentence.
Isabel Grant, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said applying the infanticide charge doesn't devalue the life of the newborn, but it is appropriate in some cases.
"I find it shocking that the Crown takes the heaviest hand of the law when there can be other options," Prof. Grant said.
Paul Brunnen, Ms. Borowiec's lawyer, said he hopes to receive disclosure from the Crown by his client's Nov. 29 court date. He said he is puzzled by the charges of murder when infanticide is available. "I'd like to know why that is too," he said.
Staff Sgt. Campbell would only say that the charges were deemed appropriate by the Crown.
Earlier this year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in the case of a mother who killed her two infants during bouts of postpartum depression, that when there is evidence of infanticide, the Crown cannot obtain a murder conviction. The Alberta Court of Appeal has also weighed in on the issue, overturning a murder conviction of a 19-year-old woman who gave birth secretly, strangled the infant and threw the body into a neighbouring yard. The court replaced the charge with infanticide.
So far, about 20 people have been interviewed in the Borowiec case. Investigators provided few details about how and when the babies died, but police allege that Ms. Borowiec gave birth in 2008 and then again in 2009 and that the babies died shortly after they were born. They said it is unlikely the bodies will ever be found.
According to a police application for a search warrant obtained by a local newspaper, Ms. Borowiec told police she miscarried in 2009 and then, in 2010, gave birth in her bathroom not realizing she was pregnant. She said she wrapped the baby in a towel, put it in a garbage bag and took it outside.
"Meredith thought the baby may be dead as she did not hear any crying nor [notice]movement, however according to Meredith, she did not check to see if he was alive nor try to assist the baby," the document said.
She also told police, according to court documents, that she was "scared" and that she was "not fit to be a parent."
While rare, cases of women killing multiple children are not unheard of.
In 2010, police in Calgary concluded that 27-year-old Harsimrat Kahlon died from complications after a secret home birth in October, 2009. The investigation revealed that since 2005, Ms. Kahlon had killed three babies and hid their bodies in containers, which were found squirrelled away in her basement apartment. Medical experts could not determine how the babies died.
Last August, also in Calgary, Stacey Joy Bourdeaux, 34, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2004 smothering death of her 10-month-old son, as well as attempted murder and failing to provide the necessities of life to her five-year-old son, who suffered serious brain damage as a result of smothering. But the baby's death only came to light when the older boy was admitted to hospital last year.