Charges against former foster parents in the death
of a Manitoba toddler have been stayed, just days
before the case was supposed to go to court, The
Canadian Press has learned.
When two-year-old Heaven Traverse died in January
2005, police treated the case as a homicide.
In April 2006, RCMP charged Douglas Sutherland
with two counts of assault with a weapon and his
wife, Darlene Sutherland, with aggravated assault.
The foster home was at the Peguis First Nation, a
Manitoba reserve near the girl's home community of
The couple was scheduled to appear Friday in a
rural Manitoba court room for a preliminary hearing,
but provincial court records indicate all charges
against the couple were stayed Oct. 26. "My
understanding is the Crown felt there was not
sufficient evidence to proceed with the case," said
Brian Kaplan, director of regional prosecutions for
The Crown attorney on the case, Rustyn Ullrich,
declined comment, but a justice department
spokeswoman forwarded an e-mail on his behalf.
"On the Crown's assessment of the evidence
available to date, the Crown is of the view that
there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction,"
the statement says.
With a stay of charges, prosecutors have one year
to reactivate them.
Heaven's family was shocked to hear the
"I'm just choked for words," said Heaven's uncle,
"It's really saddening. I can't even think right
now. We've lost a lot... It's torn our family
Heaven's biological father, Lawrence Traverse,
said he hasn't given up hope. He recently received a
letter from the RCMP saying they would continue to
"I'm just going to work harder," he said.
Heaven, who was from the Fisher River First
Nation, died Jan. 14, 2005, but her death came to
light a year later when Manitobans learned about
another murder case involving another foster girl.
Phoenix Sinclair, 5, who was in foster care for
most of her short life, was missing for nine months
before anyone reported her absence to authorities.
Police believe Phoenix was killed in June 2005,
but her disappearance wasn't reported to authorities
until the following winter. Her body was recovered
that spring from a shallow grave in a wooded area
near the Fisher River reserve, about 150 kilometres
north of Winnipeg.
Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, and her
ex-boyfriend, Karl Wesley McKay, were charged with
first degree murder and several other charges,
including forcible confinement, failing to provide
the necessities of life, and assault with a weapon.
They are in custody awaiting trial.
Phoenix's death triggered a massive review of the
province's child welfare system. Nearly 10,000
children's cases were reviewed, and the government
pledged close to $42 million over three years to
hire new social workers and improve child welfare
services - a move it called a legacy in honour of
Phoenix and other children.