There is no longer any doubt that Livia Starlight, a 30-year-old Canadian mother, killed her toddler in a fit of rage.
Starlight, originally charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a Calgary court Monday.
Her 2-year-old child, Traelin Denzel Starlight, died in the hospital Sept. 18, 2014, a week after his mother brutally beat the boy because he wouldn’t stop “whining,” according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Starlight later admitted to hitting the toddler in the head and throwing him into a sofa, the CBC reported. When the boy arrived at a hospital, doctors discovered that he had sustained two brain injuries stemming from earlier incidents, revealing to investigators a pattern of violent abuse.
After the child’s death, an autopsy determined that the boy was killed by multiple blunt force injuries, the CBC reported. Starlight was arrested in July 2015.
“This is a really sad case,” Starlight’s lawyer, Alain Hepner, said, noting that he is barred from discussing specifics of the case before sentencing. “Lacking the skills to do the right thing, she bears the ultimate responsibility, but even the judge — with the limited information at his disposal — knew there was more to this case than the headlines suggest. It’s just a very sad story.”
The question facing Justice William Tillerman is how that story should affect Starlight’s sentencing, which is scheduled for July.
Tsuut'ina mother Livia Starlight killed toddler while under investigation for child abuse – Calgary – CBC News https://t.co/W4m4T3epAp
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To learn more about the circumstances leading to the toddler’s death, Tillerman has ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Starlight and a Gladue report, Hepner said. Prepared by caseworkers, a Gladue report is a pre-sentencing document that offers judges sentencing recommendations by taking into account that “Aboriginal Peoples face racism and systemic discrimination in and out of the criminal law system,” according to the Legal Services Society.
The CBC reported that Starlight is from Tsuut’ina Nation on Calgary’s southwest corner.
Proponents of Gladue reports, which are exhaustive and take months to prepare, say the reports emphasize a restorative approach to justice that attempts to help convicted aboriginals and their victims heal. Critics have labeled the reports a get-out-of-jail-free card for indigenous people, one that encourages the court system to administer justice inconsistently.
Hepner, who is suggesting that his client receive four to six years behind bars for killing her son, disagrees, arguing that his client deserves sympathy.
“The judge hopes to learn more about the life of the person they’re sentencing,” he said.
“A court worker will delve into the dynamics of Starlight’s life — the growing-up years, the economic and social issues that surround the family and what contributed to this matter,” he added. “I think a lot of information will come forward from the psychiatric report and the Gladue report that will paint her, in my view, as a very sympathetic person.”
“Race does matter,” Jonathan Rudin, program director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, an agency that prepares Gladue reports, told the Brantford Expositor in 2013. “That’s because aboriginals have suffered discrimination in the justice system. Gladue reports are a way of remedying that.
“As an organization, we’re committed to finding different ways aboriginals can achieve just results through the justice system,” he added.
Building sympathy for Starlight may be a challenge given the wrenching details of her son’s short life.
The child was placed in foster care in summer 2014 because of his mother’s drug and alcohol abuse, according to the Calgary Herald.
That same year, the paper reported, two police investigations occurred after health-care professionals at the Alberta Children’s Hospital discovered suspicious injuries on the child’s body. Starlight told police in August 2014 that her son had sustained a head injury by falling out of his car seat, the paper reported.
Two months later, prosecutors said in court this week, the boy was again healthy when his behavior angered his mother and she attacked. At the time, Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou noted, Starlight was still under investigation for child abuse.
“When he started whining again, she picked him up off the floor and threw him onto the couch,” Papadatou said, according to the Herald. “While the cushions of the couch are soft, the arms of the couch are very hard.”
After her child was severely injured, the paper reported that Starlight texted her mother the following statement: “my baby’s not breathing, I’m scared.”
On the way to the hospital minutes later, the child went into cardiac arrest.
A week later, he was dead.
“Some cases are awful and the people involved are just plain evil,” Hepner said. “But this is not one of those cases.”
Aboriginals make up just over 4 percent of Canada’s population, according to Canadian government figures from 2011.
Canadians, Terry Glavin writes in the Ottawa Citizen, take pride in living in a country that is free from the “original sin” of slavery and the century of violent conflict and social upheaval that followed its abolition in the United States. And yet Canada has its own “disgraceful legacy,” Glavin argues:
“Down through the decades, scores of federal and provincial laws isolated, dispossessed and ghettoized one racial or ethnic minority after another. Asians weren’t allowed to vote in Canada until the late 1940s; federally registered Indians had to wait until 1960.”
“There are many heartening, role-model exceptions that are routinely cited, but they only prove the rule: the conditions that torment Aboriginal Canadians to this day are no less a disgrace than the dead-end impoundments so many African Americans find themselves within today. Aboriginal Canadians and African Americans suffer from a nearly identical suite of maladies: high rates of cancer, of heart disease, mental illness, suicide, spousal abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and tuberculosis.”
Among the most sensitive areas of contention between indigenous Canadians and their government has been the forced separation of more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their families throughout the 19th and 20th centuries — a policy many have labeled “cultural genocide.”
Pledging to work with indigenous communities toward reconciliation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year accepted the results of a six-year investigation into abuses that occurred within the government’s residential schools for indigenous children.
The investigation identified 3,201 students who lost their lives at residential schools, but noted that countless other deaths may have gone unreported. After the report’s release, Trudeau called for “a total renewal” of the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples based on “rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”
He added: “A national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is now underway. Ministers are meeting with survivors, families, and loved ones to seek their input on how best to move forward. We have also reiterated our commitments to make significant investments in First Nations education, and to lift the 2 percent cap on funding for First Nations programs.”