OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the acquittal of a Saskatchewan woman who gave birth in a Walmart bathroom stall and left the newborn in a toilet.
In a 5-2 split decision, the court ruled in favour of April Halkett, who was found not guilty in June 2009 of abandoning the baby boy two years earlier in the store in Prince Albert, Sask.
The Crown appealed the case to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court and both upheld the findings of the trial judge.
The trial judge said he believed Halkett’s testimony that she didn’t know she was pregnant and left the store because she thought the child was dead.
Halkett testified that she didn’t know she was expecting a baby because she tested negative three times on home pregnancy tests and she was still getting her period.
She told the court she thought the child was dead because of its blue pallor and the fact that it wasn’t moving.
Lawyers for the Saskatchewan government had argued before the province’s highest court that the mother had a duty to take reasonable steps to determine if her baby, who was later placed in foster care, was alive.
But the Supreme Court concluded the trial judge was right to acquit Halkett.
“The trial judge found that the respondent honestly believed that her child was dead at birth and that this belief was objectively reasonable,” Justice Thomas Cromwell wrote for the majority.
“As such, she was entitled to be acquitted based on the defence of honest and reasonable mistake of fact.”
Halkett has said it came as a shock in the bathroom stall when blood started running down her leg and a baby dropped into the toilet.
A woman in the next stall heard grunts and saw a pool of blood on the floor. She knocked on the wall and asked Halkett if she was OK. Halkett replied that she was.
She tried to clean up the mess with toilet paper and left the store without talking to anyone.
Moments later, two women in the washroom saw a tiny, purple hand poking out of the bloody bathroom tissue that filled the toilet.
The store manager pulled the baby out and paramedics helped him start breathing.
Police released surveillance-camera photos of the mystery mother. Halkett came forward soon after upon learning the baby had survived.