‘This is an opportunity today for you to send a message to parents to get off their phones and look after their kids’
There are stiff fines for distracted driving that can cause death and serious injuries on the highways.
Jody Ostapiw believes there should also be stiff penalties for the phenomenon of “distracted parenting” — parents spending too much time on social media when they should be watching their children and serious injuries — event death — result.
“I say to you: this is an opportunity today for you to send a message to parents to get off their phones and look after their kids,” the assistant Crown attorney told Ontario Court Justice John Keast in her sentencing submission Thursday. “There is going to be a punishment for that type of behaviour in society.
“It is called for in today’s society that that message be sent.”
She made the comments during sentencing arguments for a woman who was on social media as her infant son drowned in a bathtub two years ago. The woman, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Ostapiw, in arguing for a nine-month jail term for the woman, said it’s a much different world today than in 1998 when she got her first email address; social media now plays a huge role in everyone’s lives. So, she continued, when a parent is pre-occupied with social media and a child gets hurt or killed, the courts should hand down tough penalties.
“I encourage this court to have that dialogue,” she said. “In the terms of a parenting relationship, that can have dire consequences if you choose to stay on social media when you should be looking after your kids. There can be dire consequences and you are going to jail for that — real jail, so society knows that behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Ostapiw also said that a four-month house arrest sentence proposed by the woman’s defence lawyers would see her stay in her home, spend time with her aging grandmother, continue with her upgrading, proceed with counselling and even walk her dog – all things the woman is doing at the moment while on bail.
The assistant Crown attorney also questioned the woman’s motivation to start pursuing upgrading and seeking counselling at the time of the cancellation of her preliminary hearing and the planned entering of a guilty plea. The woman’s motivation, argued Ostapiw, was to better her chances of getting a house arrest sentence.
Ostapiw also said the woman was well aware how long she had been away from her two children in the bathtub when she gave her initial statement to Greater Sudbury Police and her comments during her Facebook live video.
“It was a choice,” she said. “It’s only when she is confronted with the forensic dump of her phone – ‘we know you were on Facebook for over 10 minutes’ – she admits to it.”
Ostapiw added that while the woman was found to be at a low risk to re-offend courtesy of a risk assessment, she did score badly in one category she was evaluated on: self-deception
“She is smart enough to lie,” said the assistant Crown attorney. “She lies to police. She lies on social media. Her efforts (at rehabilitation) cannot be taken as genuine … The Crown is asking you to see though that.”
Defence lawyer Stephanie Farrell said the woman, who had no prior record, “has struggled with a learning disability her entire life.”
Steps the woman has taken to improve herself since the incident, noted the lawyer, include starting upgrading, lining up a spot in a mood and anxiety program that starts later this month, and looking to get counselling.
“(She) has done everything she can do to position herself for the future to alleviate any concerns this court may have,” said Farrell.
Finally, the lawyer said that the woman has already paid a very heavy price for the incident that occurred in her home almost two years ago.
“No sentence will ever replace that which has been lost: the life of (the son),” said Farrell. “(She) will forever have to live with the fact (the son) was lost while in her care … She will forever have to live with her guilt.”