Manitoba

Guardian sentenced to 3 years for death of toddler who had 'profoundly disturbing' injuries

A Manitoba man has been given three years in prison after a three-year-old boy in his care died with "catastrophic" injuries a judge called "profoundly disturbing" — including seven broken bones and more than 70 burns, bruises and scrapes.

Houston Bushie pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life for 3-year-old

A toddler smiling.
Abel Leveque-Flett was rushed to a nursing station in the eastern Manitoba community of Little Grand Rapids on Aug. 23, 2018, where he was pronounced dead. (Eternal Grace Funerals)

A Manitoba man has been given three years in prison after a three-year-old boy in his care died with "catastrophic" injuries a judge called "profoundly disturbing" — including seven broken bones and more than 70 burns, bruises and scrapes.

Houston Bushie, 27, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life as a guardian for three-year-old Abel Leveque-Flett.

Abel was rushed to a nursing station in the eastern Manitoba community of Little Grand Rapids on Aug. 23, 2018, where he was pronounced dead. Court heard Abel had epilepsy and developmental and physical disabilities that meant he couldn't talk or walk without a walker. 

But he would have still been able to cry, Crown attorney Sarah Thiessen said.

"He would have been crying consistently — in an unimaginable amount of pain — and [Bushie] did nothing," she said.

An autopsy couldn't determine Abel's cause of death, but noted seven broken bones — some less than a week old — and 75 other bruises, abrasions and burns, Thiessen said.

That included bruises and scrapes on his face and neck, a burn on his groin and extensive soft-tissue hemorrhage and bruising to his scalp "consistent with blunt-force trauma," the prosecutor read from an agreed statement of facts.

Provincial court Judge Keith Eyrikson said the photos of Abel's injuries were "seared into" his mind, adding he wouldn't look at them again during sentencing "because I remember them so unfortunately vividly."

Those photos showed how obvious it was that the toddler needed medical attention, Thiessen said — including the burn to his groin, where his "skin was entirely gone."

She said many people were consulted about the possible cause of Abel's injuries, but with his cause of death left undetermined by the autopsy — in part because it was complicated by his seizure disorder — prosecutors were uncertain about how the toddler died.

'73 days of hell'

Court heard Abel was in the care of Bushie and his partner, Alayna Flett, from June 16 to Aug. 23, 2018, along with the toddler's three siblings.

During that time, he was never taken to any hospital or nursing station, despite his injuries — marking a period Judge Eyrikson described as "73 days of hell." He also lost nearly 17 per cent of his body weight during that time, court heard.

Flett, 24, was convicted on the same charge last month. Her sentencing is scheduled for May 15.

The couple cared for Abel through a family agreement made because the boy's biological father and mother — who is Flett's aunt — were not able to care for him. While Child and Family Services were involved in monitoring him, he wasn't in care.

Abel's biological mother, who court heard was at the hearing initially but left before sentencing began, later texted a victim services worker a message she wanted to be read aloud.

"I know what happened was really bad, but I would never wish anything bad or death on anyone. My heart hurts for my baby, my niece and her husband," Marlene Flett said in the message, adding she knew she wouldn't be able to speak at the sentencing without crying.

"Yes, I'm mad. But I don't want to hate anyone, and I won't. How am I going to heal if I have this heavy heart?"

High risk to reoffend

Defence lawyer Matthew Munce said Bushie, who court heard agreed to plead guilty about a month before his trial, has a significant history of abuse and intergenerational trauma in his family connected to his grandparents being forced to attend residential schools.

A pre-sentence report also said Bushie was introduced to alcohol at a young age and has continued to use it to cope, though he's sought treatment. 

His criminal record also includes several assaults — including one that he was still on probation for at the time of Abel's death.

The report deemed him a high risk to reoffend and said it could not comment on Bushie's level of remorse for what happened because he wouldn't talk about it.

Munce described Bushie as soft-spoken and said his client has had "severe hesitation" talking about Abel's death — something he said he interprets as him having difficulty processing what happened, not being unremorseful.

When given a chance to speak at his sentencing, Bushie apologized.

"I know I should have [taken] him to the nursing station. But I take full responsibility," he said. "I wish I could take back what happened."

In response, the judge urged him to reflect on what happened — and not forget the pain he caused the family and community affected by Abel's death.

"I can tell based on what your lawyer has said, as well as what you have said to me today, this has been a difficult day for you," Eyrikson said.

"I want you to know that that pales in comparison to even one minute that Abel suffered through while he was under your care. I can only imagine the suffering and the travesty that you helped provide while you were supposed to be looking after a young, disabled boy."

Manitoba's Department of Families ordered a review of Abel's death in 2021. A provincial spokesperson previously said the department received the final report in May 2022, but that it was confidential and protected by the Child and Family Services Act.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlyn Gowriluk has been writing for CBC Manitoba since 2019. Her work has also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and in 2021 she was part of an award-winning team recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association for its breaking news coverage of COVID-19 vaccines. Get in touch with her at caitlyn.gowriluk@cbc.ca.

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