What do you do with a mother who does the unthinkable? - Macleans.ca

What do you do with a mother who does the unthinkable?

Despite Harper’s law-and-order agenda, the government tiptoes around the issue of infanticide


Stuart Dryden/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency

Meredith Borowiec wasn’t difficult to catch. Even as the Calgary police rescued an abandoned newborn boy from a trash bin in October 2010, she sat on the steps of her apartment building, quietly watching. When an officer approached to ask if she’d seen anything suspicious, he immediately noticed the blood staining her coat and pajama bottoms. It was in the ambulance that she confessed to having given birth and trying to dispose of the child. When detectives began to examine her history, she admitted to having done the same thing—but with fatal consequences—twice before. “I was horrified with myself,” Borowiec tearfully told a detective. The 2008 and 2009 abandonments, after having kept her pregnancies secret from her long-time partner and given birth alone, were akin to “out of body” experiences. “It was like something took over me. It was like I wasn’t in control.” She wasn’t even able to provide the sex of her dead children.

Earlier this month, Borowiec, now 32, stood in a Calgary courtroom and pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of her rescued son. Originally charged with second-degree murder for the 2008 and 2009 deaths, she was convicted of two counts of infanticide last November. “I have accepted what has happened and feel horrible about it. I will have to live with it,” she told the court. The Crown is seeking a total of 11 or 12 years in prison—the maximum sentence for each infanticide is five years. Although with three years credit for her time in pretrial custody, it is doubtful she will serve anywhere near that, if anything at all. (The Crown is appealing.) There’s also the issue of her reproductive future. In July, Borowiec gave birth to a fourth child, who was immediately handed over to social services. Her lawyer has suggested a 15-year peace bond, with regular pregnancy tests. The judge is scheduled to deliver his decision Jan. 29.

Canada’s infanticide law, adopted in 1948 and based on a British statute, makes reference to a type of temporary insanity in women, brought on by the effects of childbirth or lactation, disturbing “the balance of her mind.” The evidence suggests it was more of a pragmatic response to a particular legal conundrum: when the only available charge was murder, and the mandatory sentence death, few judges or juries were willing to convict young women of killing their unwanted newborns. Especially when the men who had impregnated them—often out of wedlock— faced no sanction at all.

Sixty-five years later, times have changed. Birth control is widely available. The social stigma of unmarried women who have children has all but disappeared. And Canadian law places no limits whatsoever on abortions. “Women faced with an unwanted pregnancy now have a number of less desperate alternatives available to them,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in a 1991 report. At the time, she took issue with a statute “based on the questionable premise that the experience of childbirth temporarily reduced a woman’s moral capacity and responsibility.” But despite such high-level criticism, the law remains on the books in Canada. And there seems to be little taste for its reform.

In 2011, the Supreme Court declined to hear two Ontario cases where lower courts had ruled the killing of newborns to be infanticides, rather than first-degree murders. The refusal left an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a Guelph woman—who was sentenced to one year in jail in addition to pretrial custody for smothering one baby in 1998 and another in 2002—as the only substantive examination of the law. “The drastically different penalties available upon conviction for murder, manslaughter or infanticide reflect the very different levels of moral blameworthiness attached to each offence,” Justice David Doherty wrote for the court. Parliament, he said, has left no doubt that “a mother who commits a culpable homicide that constitutes infanticide is regarded as having committed a much less serious crime.”

“The matter is now settled in Canadian law,” says professor Kirsten Kramar, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s department of sociology, and the author of a book on infanticide in Canada. “We don’t say it’s not a crime, but we mitigate.”

Kramar acknowledges the statute seems archaic, and perhaps even discriminatory, given that men who kill newborns under similar psychological duress aren’t able to avail themselves of the defence. But it still plays a useful role, she says, providing courts with a more humane way to deal with women who don’t meet the narrow definition of insanity, yet are nonetheless deeply troubled.

Isabel Grant, a University of British Columbia law professor who specializes in homicide and mental health issues, says that while the Ontario decision clarified what constitutes infanticide in Canada, the Crown seems to be headed in the other direction—increasingly prone to lay murder charges against women who kill their babies. “I think they’re taking a more punitive approach. Especially if it involves more than one child,” she says. “When there’s a pattern, people tend to disbelieve.”

One solution is creating another “catch-all” category of third-degree murder that would allow more discretion in sentencing. Grant doubts, however, that the current government will entertain such a move since the Conservative reforms to date have been targeted at making murder laws tougher.

Still, it’s curious that the Harper government’s law-and-order agenda seems to tiptoe around the issue of infanticide. And that despite high profile cases like Borowiec’s, most of the discussion about the law is confined to pro-life websites. The circumstances that gave rise to the charge have changed greatly over the last seven decades, but the basic problem persists: What do you do with a mother who does the unthinkable?

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What do you do with a mother who does the unthinkable?

  1. Another ridiculous by-line concocted out of whole cloth.
    Leaving aside the complete absence of any evidence that there is overt “tip toeing” (for instance emails saying “gee this is a problem, lets sweep aside or not bring it up”) there appears to be nothing to be tip toeing about. Such otherwise seemingly loving mothers who do these inexplicable murderous acts are horrible occurrences in society, provide courts with a delicate issue. It seems that the courts are dealing with the intricacies of this issue on a case by case basis as it should be, mitigating the sentence in real instances of post-partum type afflictions.
    There appears to be two related reasons for the ridiculous by line. 1) the desire by the leftist media to attack the Harper government at every turn, even if it means making stuff up, and 2) the notion that big government can solve all problems (a belief held by most leftist/statists) – even post partum related infanticide – and applying that impossible standard against Harper.

  2. Horrified? So horrified you kept doing it?
    You weren’t horrified until you finally got caught.
    Rot in prison with a tattoo on your forehead – baby killer

    • your psychic powers are amazing. The police should contact you regarding unsolved crimes considering the amazing insight you possess into the criminal mind, where absolutely no proof of what you speak is actually available.

      • Not psychic – common sense.
        People who are horrified by what they have done – stop.

        • People who are mentally ill don’t have any ‘common sense’

          • I meant I had common sense, not physic abilities.
            The woman is a murder.

          • SHE doesn’t have any common sense….she is mentally unbalanced.

          • Let’s try again, I did not say the murder had common sense, I said I did.
            How hard is that for you understand.
            SHE is a murder.

          • Infanticide – killing ones own baby
            She said she did it twice and tried a third time.
            Make all the excuses you want for her, she is a murderer.
            The real issue here is why are you so willing to excuse her?
            Now why is that?

          • The word is spelled ‘murderer’.

            And you didn’t even bother to read the article so you’ll never know anything about it

            Don’t blame me for your own ignorance.

          • Listen Em, the woman killed her babies, now do yourself a favor and stop defending her.

          • Humans have always done that…..all over the world.

            In fact newborns have often been left out overnight to see if they survive.

            You might want to learn about it instead of attacking me.

          • Hey, you are the one trying to justify her murder because “everyone” does it.

          • You’re too busy being pious to be factual, so go bore somebody else.

          • And yet, you keep replying to me.

          • LOL as Sandy does it again.

            Go play elsewhere….Ciao

          • If she’s that ill, she should be locked up for a long time

          • Being locked up cures mental problems does it?

          • No, it does keep murders who are insane off the street – that’s a good thing

          • Oh, so they’re going about murdering people at random?

          • Ah sweetie, keeping insane murders off the street is a good thing.
            Why do you insist on defending them?
            You have serious issue, seek help

          • It’s not me that needs it. In fact, it’s nothing to do with me.

    • Sandy, she did sit right in plain sight in her bloodied clothes and immediately admitted to having left two other babies to die. She was not exactly evading police.

      • ah, Well since I did not say she was evading the police, your reply means nothing.
        I said she was a murderer.
        Try and keep up.

        • “You weren’t horrified until you FINALLY got caught.” Hmmm…she didn’t try very hard NOT to get caught, did she?

          • Throwing the babies in the trash, is a pretty good indication she was hiding the murders.
            Just because she is also stupid, is no excuse.
            She wasn’t horrified, probably just viewed it as a late term abortion.

          • By “stupid’, do you mean very low IQ because THAT is a distinct possibility.

          • “she probably viewed it as a late term abortion.”
            Here is the million dollar question. Why not just get an abortion? They are free and available in Canada. Do you really think giving birth alone is as pain free and simple as an abortion? Does this not make you wonder about what else is going on here?

  3. Murder is murder. It is murder so treat it just like murder. No need to add non-value added complexity.

    • I believe personhood begins at birth, before that you are a foetus and the rights of the mother have priority. So consistency demands that I also accept that once you have left the birth canal then you have the full protection of the law as a citizen and a person. Any person who kills another person illegally is guilty of murder. But as with all cases this is dependent on any mitigating factors presented to the court, diminished capacity being one of them.
      Infanticide just seems like an unnecessary complication not least because studies have also shown that women who commit infanticide or neonaticide are more likely to be rational than those who kill their older children often are. (Case Western Reserve University, (1970 and 2006) So this separate offence might actually conceal more deliberate crime than one realised and deflect concern from those cases that truly involve women in a non-rational state. http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/sundayreader/story.html?id=60527175-b3dc-4002-a27d-e9cf2f1ddd62

      • What you are referring to is postpartum psychosis which of course these women who have just given birth could NOT be suffering from as it is too early postpartum for that to occur.
        What they do have an issue with though, as the article pointed out is the inability to accept that they are pregnant. They haven’t told anyone they are pregnant and they haven’t seemed to prepare, in their own minds for the eventuality of giving birth. It is a kind of extreme denial. The denial is so entrenched that they do not pursue an abortion, even though they are free and relatively easily accessible in Canada. Why would that be? Perhaps that is why there is some question about their mental state.
        Then there are situations where there are repeat pregnancies, births and infanticides. In this particular case, the perpetrator didn’t even try to run away from police or hide what she did.
        Further, these women like all people charged with a serious crime, are given a psychiatric assessment. The outcome of the psych assessment in large part determines what charge and sentence is appropriate based and their mental status. Although a person may not be suffering from post partum psychosis, it is possible to suffer from psychosis during pregnancy due to other mental health issues.

        • But both our posts illustrate that a simplistic approach by anybody is unreasonable and not in the best interests of justice. With cases of such complexity each case must be weighed on its merits and precedents ignored in may mind.
          That doesn’t however detract from the fact that a person’s life has been illegally ended by another person.

          • Yes, people do try to offer a simplistic approach to cases which obviously are not at all simplistic. It is no different than any crime in that each case is examined and any extenuating factors are taken into account. Perhaps these journalists would like to enquire about the IQ’s of some of these women who commit infanticide.

          • I think that these women have been judged and condemned by the public more often than they are by journos.
            Trying to explain the intricacies of the mind to folk who “just know” is a hopeless task

    • Dave, these people are not getting treated differently than other people who murder. Everyone who commits murder gets a psych assessment. Those assessments ultimately affect the charges that are levied against them and the sentences that are handed down. This is no different.

  4. Do like China and many other countries do. Earn your keep in labour jail if you murder people and kids.

  5. She is mentally ill…..so to prevent future murders…..sterilization….please!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Why didn’t she go to a hospital? She would’ve avoided so many problems.

  7. This woman had another child while in custody? What’s gonna happen to that kid?