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April 14, 2008 permalink
Pregnant teenager Noellee Mowatt accused her boyfriend Christopher Harbin of domestic violence. To ensure that she would testify at his hearing, she was held in jail for over a week. She recanted and amidst widespread public attention was freed from jail. Now CAS has plans to seize her baby at birth on grounds of the recanted accusation. This case should cut down on future false (and true) accusations of domestic violence.
Legal troubles intensify for pregnant teen jailed by courts
Posted: April 14, 2008, 10:10 PM by Barry Hertz, Crime
By Chris Wattie, National Post
The legal difficulties facing a pregnant 19-year-old jailed for more than a week to force her to testify at her boyfriend’s abuse trial may just be beginning.
According to court documents, the Toronto Children’s Aid Society plans to seize Noellee Mowatt’s child as soon as it is born. She is due next month.
“My information is that they intend to seize the child when the child is born,” Dominic Basile, the Crown prosecutor, told a bail hearing this month.
Mr. Basile told the April 3 hearing that the society was prepared to take custody of Ms. Mowatt’s child “On the basis of her inability to be able to offer proper care to the child when the child is born … and one of the factors is the domestic violence situation surrounding her circumstances.”
The hearing, before a justice of the peace, was told that authorities are so concerned about the safety of Ms. Mowatt’s unborn child that they have put Toronto-area hospitals on alert to tell them when she gives birth.
“It’s my understanding that the Children’s Aid Society has alerts to all hospitals in this jurisdiction and will be apprehending, again, the child when the child is born,” Mr. Basile told the bail hearing.
Lydia Riva, the lawyer for the eight-month pregnant teenager, said neither she nor Ms. Mowatt has been contacted by Children’s Aid about any possible order to seize her baby.
“We don’t really know anything about that, other than what the Crown has alleged,” she said. “Ms. Mowatt has always been concerned for the well-being of her baby and when she heard that, obviously she was upset.”
Ms. Mowatt’s case drew outrage from domestic violence activists after she was arrested on a material witness warrant and held in a provincial jail for eight days until she testified at the trial of her boyfriend.
Christopher Harbin was arrested and charged after Ms. Mowatt called police to report that he had attacked her. But soon after his arrest, she began avoiding detectives handling the case and eventually told them she did not want to testify against Harbin.
He was charged with eight counts of assault, assault with a weapon and forcible confinement after the Dec. 28 incident with Ms. Mowatt. He was also charged with breach of probation, for violating his probation conditions on a previous domestic violence conviction.
After she failed to appear in court for Harbin’s first trial date, police took Ms. Mowatt into custody on a material witness warrant and a justice of the peace ordered her held without bail.
At Harbin’s trial last Friday, Ms. Mowatt recanted her earlier statement to police that he had punched, choked and cut her with a knife. She gave various explanations for the bruises and other marks on her body, visible in photographs taken on the day of the alleged assault.
Judge Beverly Brown, of provincial court, released Ms. Mowatt on bail and a promise to appear in court when Harbin’s trial continues on April 22.
According to testimony at the bail hearing two weeks ago, her welfare has been cut off because she gave false addresses to case workers.
She also faces a theft charge for allegedly shoplifting cosmetics and other items from a Designer Depot store in Toronto.
Melanie Persaud, a spokeswoman for Toronto Children’s Aid Society, would not comment on Ms. Mowatt’s case specifically. However she said that it would be “very unusual” for authorities to seize a child just because the mother is in an abusive relationship.
“In and of itself, domestic abuse is not usually sufficient to have the child apprehended and brought into care,” she said. “Every case is different and there are a number of factors to take into account.”
The hearing was told that Children’s Aid was called soon after Harbin was arrested, when Ms. Mowatt had a loud telephone argument with him in the women’s shelter where she was staying after the alleged assault.
Ms. Mowatt then left the shelter and officials called Children’s Aid, concerned for her safety and the safety of her unborn child.
Ms. Riva would not say where her client is living at the moment, other than to say: “She is safe.”
Source: National Post