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Woman pleads guilty to neglecting her children

Pauline Richer pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and two counts of child abandonment at the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield courthouse on December 19, admitting to having subjected her three children to horrific acts that took place between 1981 and 1983 in Saint-Anicet and Cazaville.

Present in the courtroom, Damien, Geneviève, and Mélanie Castagner received their 60-year-old mother’s confession like an early Christmas present.

“It [the guilty verdict] brings us a little peace,” said Mélanie Castagner at the courthouse. For Damien, the move by his mother – who acknowledged her wrongdoing after more than 40 years – came as a relief. The eldest of the family, he was between the age of five and seven at the time of the abuse and was very protective of his two sisters.

An unsanitary living environment

Over a period of around two years, the children often went without food – so much so that at one point, Damien “hunted” a bird and cooked it in the microwave to feed himself and his sisters. Otherwise, the three siblings recounted having eaten soap, raw onions, and feces.

Melanie had her arm broken by her mother when she was thrown off her bunk bed. On her return from the hospital, her mother immediately removed her cast.

The children also suffered cigarette burns and often found themselves locked in their rooms while Richer was away.

The house was described as unsanitary, where the children were provided a bucket to be used as a toilet. As a result, the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse ultimately removed the children from their home. They were then placed separately in foster care.

“These facts are extremely troubling,” said prosecutor, Mylène Brown. “Even reading just a small part of this is bloodcurdling.”

Striking statements

The three victims agreed to lift the publication ban and addressed the court. Each spoke of the lasting impacts of feeling abandoned. “You don’t know anything about what I’ve been through,” began Geneviève. “It is heartbreaking to realize that you didn’t come into this world to be loved and fulfilled.”

Her brother read a text in the form of a poem in which he indicated, with difficulty, that he still loved Richer despite what she had done to him.

Mélanie, who confessed to having been suicidal, said she had long hoped to wake up in the morning to find it had all been a nightmare. When she became a mother, she was stressed at the thought of repeating what had been done to her.

Quebec Court Justice Joey Dubois, who presided over the session, addressed the children. “I hope you can find a way through this ordeal.”

Prison at home

Richer was sentenced to two years less a day to be served at her Drummondville home, followed by three years’ probation and numerous conditions. The sentence was suggested jointly by the prosecution and defense lawyer, Jacques Vinet. The decision avoids a lengthy trial and will not require the children to testify in court.

Brown explained that the conditional sentence was not a substitute to jail time.

The accused collapsed during the lawyers’ closing arguments. Following a lengthy delay, Richer was returned to the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Dubois reminded the defendant that her children had the right to be loved. “What you’ve done is serious and criminal,” he said. “You have ruined their lives.”

An important denunciation

The three victims took over 40 years before denouncing their mother’s actions. “Justice here proves that it’s never too late. There’s always someone to listen to us in life,” said Damien as he left the courtroom. “There are many other people to whom this happens; trust your heart and speak up.”

According to the Montreal Gazette, Richer’s brother, Paul-Emile Richer, 61, faces similar charges. The Saint-Anicet resident’s hearing was scheduled for December 20, and is expected to go to trial.

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