A mother has been charged with manslaughter more than a month after her newborn daughter was found dead in garbage bin on a north Winnipeg back lane, police say.
Jeanene Rosa Moar, 31, is also charged with concealing the body of a child.
Child abuse unit investigators allege the baby was born at a home in Winnipeg’s Garden City neighbourhood, then concealed in the garbage bin, where her body was found on May 3.
Police believe the infant was alive when she was abandoned, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Claude Chancy said at a news conference Wednesday.
“This is somebody that was born and discarded, [and] has no chance of living a fulfilling life,” Chancy said of the infant, whom police are calling Baby Moar.
“It’s extremely traumatic for the family. It’s extremely traumatic for the community at large. It’s traumatic for the first responders that also attended to this event.”
Winnipeg Police Service Const. Claude Chancy announced the infant’s death at a news conference Wednesday. (CityNews Winnipeg)
Police found the body after getting a tip about the garbage bin on Boyd Avenue in the Salter Street area, south of the neighbourhood where investigators believe the baby was born.
Chancy would not say who tipped off the police or how long they believe the baby was there.
There have now been 23 homicides in Winnipeg in 2022.
Community members shaken
Jackeline Black, whose Boyd Avenue back lane was partly taped off by police last month, said Wednesday’s announcement confirmed her worst fears.
Her mom was in her yard next door on the day police had the lane taped off, when she overheard officers talking about a baby blanket.
“This whole time we thought, ‘Maybe it was a baby…. But we never heard of anything about it. So we [thought], ‘OK, it couldn’t be a baby. It would be in the news already,” Black said.
Jackeline Black, right, stands with family in a Boyd Avenue back lane that Winnipeg police had partly taped off last month, in connection with an investigation into the death of an infant. (Alana Cole/CBC)
Asked at the news conference why police took over a month to announce the death publicly, Chancy said the investigation is a “time-consuming” one that has involved medical and forensic analysis and consultation with Crown prosecutors.
Black said even after the yellow tape was removed from her back lane, police stayed at the scene for days, asking her and her husband what they remembered putting in their garbage bin and if they noticed anything unusual.
Her husband was especially upset to learn what police had been looking for, she said.
“He was supposed to take the garbage out that morning and he feels that if he did, he would have found her in time. We have five sons and one daughter,” she said, starting to cry.
“This is awful. [Of] everything that I’ve heard going on in the news the last month, this is the worst. This is absolutely the worst.”
Charge ‘speaks to the intention and planning’
The same day police found the infant’s body, Moar was identified as the mother and arrested at a home near where the discovery was made, Chancy said.
A drum circle pays tribute to the short life of Baby Moar, during a vigil Wednesday night for the newborn whose body was found in a garbage bin in this back alley on May 3. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)
She was admitted to hospital for medical precautions and released from custody. A week later, Moar was arrested again and charged with concealing the body of a child, Chancy said in an email later Wednesday.
She was then detained and transported to the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, just west of Winnipeg. On Tuesday, she was arrested a third time at the correctional centre and charged with manslaughter, he said.
Chancy said the manslaughter charge, laid in consultation with Crown prosecutors, “definitely speaks to the intention and planning of the crime.”
Generally, manslaughter is defined as a homicide committed without intent to kill, though there may have been an intention to cause harm.
Doug King, professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said if the case goes to trial, proving the baby was alive when placed in the garbage bin will be key to getting a manslaughter conviction.
But the charge of concealing the body of a child suggests more may be going on behind the scenes, he said.
“It suggests that the Crown is wanting to keep an option on the table of potentially a plea bargain, where they will withdraw the manslaughter charges if they can get a plea on the lesser charge,” King said.
Doug King is a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary. (Submitted by Doug King)
Manslaughter convictions can carry up to a life sentence, but King said the punishments he’s seen are usually closer to five to seven years. A sentence for concealing the body of a child can’t exceed two years but is typically closer to six months, he said.
King stressed that neither charge against Moar has been proven in court, so “we need to let the system work its way out, as opposed to rush to judgment.”
“We live in a funny world where everybody wants [to] squeeze the maximum punishment for everybody. But there’s a certain point where we have to also understand a certain degree of compassion,” he said.
‘Act of complete desperation’
It’s important to understand these types of cases through that lens of compassion, “while at the same time understanding and appreciating how this is a terrible tragedy and it’s a life lost,” said Katreena Scott, academic director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University.
“This kind of homicide usually happens within the first day or two days after the birth of the child,” said Scott, who is also a clinical psychologist.
“It’s most often an act of complete desperation on the part of the mother, where the mother just cannot see any possible way of being able to provide a life for the child.”
Katreena Scott is a clinical psychologist and the academic director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University. (Submitted by Katreena Scott)
Though little is known about this particular case, Scott said, mothers convicted of killing their newborns often had little or no support during their pregnancies.
Sometimes, no one even knew they were pregnant. Similar cases also often involve domestic violence or mental illness, she said.
“I think we’ll do a disservice if we stop and end on the idea that this is a horrible, evil mother, as opposed to really digging into understanding what it is that’s happening and what it is that has driven the person to this act,” Scott said.
Moar remains in custody. Chancy said he could not provide any information about the baby’s father.
And on Boyd Avenue, Black said they’re planning a memorial for the baby in their back lane on Wednesday night with candles and stuffed animals.