Edmonton couple handcuffed child, guilty of abuse

Boyfriend ruled with 'iron fist,' judge says

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

EDMONTON A young couple at the centre of what Edmonton police had described as one of the city's worst child-abuse cases ever was convicted yesterday.

However, Madam Justice Darlene Acton of the Court of Queen's Bench ruled that of the two co-accused, Darcy Bannert committed more crimes than his former girlfriend, who is the biological mother of the four-year-old female victim.

"Evidence has shown Mr. Bannert was the king of the castle and ruled over his household with an iron fist," Judge Acton said.

Mr. Bannert, 25, was convicted on nine of 11 charges against him, including sexual assault, assault with a weapon and unlawful confinement, while his former 22-year-old girlfriend, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, was found guilty only of common assault and causing a child to be in need of protective custody. She was acquitted of three charges, including unlawful confinement.

During the trial, witnesses, including a lesbian couple who lived with the family for about two months, said the child was routinely hit, slapped, called names such as "bitch" and "stinky little girl" and deprived of liquids to the point that she drank plant fertilizer she found under a Christmas tree.

Witnesses also testified that Mr. Bannert sprayed the girl with water and handcuffed her to various objects, including a milk crate and wooden hope chest, for up to 60 minutes at a time.

The little girl's former foster mother testified that the child often made explicit comments about sexual acts and even begged the woman to undress and join her in the bathtub so they could have sex.

The girl was also seen applying lip gloss to her vaginal area.

According to her foster mother, the child told her that "daddy said that's where it was supposed to go."

The foster mother said the girl, who has been in the care of Children's Services since her mother and Mr. Bannert were arrested in December of 2005, often said, "no more foot locks, no more soap in my mouth, no more sex."

The judge said while there was no physical evidence to prove the sexual assault, she accepted the "spontaneous comments" the girl made to her foster mother about the abuse.

"It is apparent ... that to [the girl] having sex with daddy in the bathtub was normal and common," Judge Acton said.

The judge also rejected arguments by the couple's defence lawyers that the girl was being disciplined and not abused. She said while handcuffing a child may have been acceptable during "the times of Charles Dickens," it is now "an outrage to the standards of decency."

While the verdict was being read, both of the accused often leaned over in the prisoner's box and covered their faces with their hands. The victim's mother cried at times.

In her closing arguments earlier this month, Crown prosecutor Shelley Bykewich said the child, who has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, lived in a "house of horror" and a "constant state of terror."

After the couple was arrested in 2005, a police spokeswoman told reporters that Edmonton child-protection union officers said it was the "most horrific child-abuse case" they had ever investigated.