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Digest: R. v. Lovett

[2017] A.J. No. 69

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench
K.M. Eidsvik J.

Oral judgment: January 23, 2017.
(141 paras.)

   Criminal law — Criminal Code offences — Offences against person and reputation — Duties tending to preservation of life — Failure to provide necessaries of life — Criminal negligence — Causing death by criminal negligence — Lovett convicted of criminal negligence causing death of seven-year-old son who died of septic shock because completely treatable infections were not treated for several weeks before his death — Lovett had legal duty to care for her son, experience with efficacy of antibiotics, first-hand knowledge of his many, worsening symptoms and awareness of availability of treatment — Lovett's choice to treat symptoms with natural remedies she learned about via internet was unreasonable — Lovett lacked honest belief that her actions were best possible course for child — Criminal Code, ss. 215, 219, 220.

   Trial of Lovett on charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing the death of her seven-year-old son, Ryan. Lovett was a well-educated mother of two living in a low-rent apartment in poverty with Ryan. He stayed home from school with a cold early in February 2013. He returned to school and other activities a few days later, but an extended school absence preceded his death from septic shock on March 2. Lovett had been researching various ailments on the internet in the weeks leading up to his death, including ear infections, swollen lymph nodes, and pus. She communicated to friends that Ryan needed constant care and that he had come down with every problem a child his age could have. Lovett used various home remedies on Ryan to address his symptoms. She claimed she gave him Advil for pain, but an autopsy revealed no Advil in his system. She first sought medical attention for Ryan on March 2, when he started vomiting, slurring his words and falling down. By the time emergency responders arrived, he was dead. The autopsy showed multiple organ failure. Doctors opined that Ryan would have exhibited many symptoms in the days prior to his death that should have been recognized as warranting medical intervention. Administration of antibiotics anytime before Ryan's final two days of life could have saved him. Lovett testified that she did not think Ryan was as sick as he was. She claimed she did not know he had an ear infection, although there was pus coming from his ear and the area around it had become darkened. She admitted that his eyes had turned yellow and that she was trying to treat him for jaundice with dandelion tea. She testified that visiting doctors was not part of her routine. Some neighbours who saw Ryan on the day before he died did not recognize how sick he was. One friend, Lapointe, did recognize how serious the situation was and tried to convince Lovett to take Ryan to the doctor, but acquiesced when Lovett became argumentative. There was some evidence from other friends that Lovett had used antibiotics in the past to treat a spider bite and when Ryan had an infected tooth.

   HELD: Lovett was convicted on both counts. The failing to provide the necessaries of life conviction was stayed based on the Kienapple principle. Lovett, as Ryan's mother, had a legal duty to provide him with the necessaries of life. She failed to do so, and as a result, placed his life in danger. A reasonable parent would have recognized the seriousness of Ryan's condition earlier and would have sought medical attention for him, rather than relying on internet research and home remedies to treat his significant and numerous symptoms. Given her knowledge of what Ryan was going through and her awareness that free medical care was available for him nearby, Lovett showed a reckless disregard for his life by failing to seek out help for him before the treatable infections he was experiencing became fatal. Her belief that she was doing everything she could for Ryan was neither honest nor reasonable.