Closing arguments conclude in trial of B.C. caregiver charged with criminal negligence causing death

Warning: This story contains disturbing details

Closing arguments finished Tuesday at New Westminster Supreme Court in the trial of a caregiver charged in connection with the death of a woman with Down syndrome who was in her care.

The trial has heard a pathologist testify 54-year-old Florence Girard died of starvation or malnutrition. Her body was found in Dahl’s Port Coquitlam home on Oct. 13, 2018. Dahl is charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life.

In closing arguments, Dahl’s defence lawyer Glen Orris told the court there was no way she could have forced Girard to go to a doctor, and added Girard had the right to refuse.

“None of the witnesses for the Crown were critical of (Dahl’s) care of Flo at any time,” Orris said, and added the evidence showed workers at the non-profit Kinsight that oversaw the home share had whatever access they wished to have to Girard at any time. “Certainly for at least eight years while she was in (Dahl’s) home, Flo, by all the evidence that was called, was a family member, a person who was loved and cared for, and the people in the family were committed to her well-being.”

During the trial, Dahl took the stand in her own defence and testified Girard did not like going to the doctor or dentist, and would become upset and sometimes hit herself.

Orris argued Dahl’s choice not to seek medical treatment for Girard before her death was “reasonable” considering the circumstances she found herself in.

“She had several options,” Orris said. “She chose the one that she believed was the one that Flo would want her and trust her to make.”

The Crown is alleging over time, Girard was no longer being taken to the doctor, dentist, or getting prescriptions renewed, leading her health to decline to the point where she could no longer eat properly.

Prosecutor Jay Fogel argued the evidence showed it took months for Girard to lose weight and starve and added the pathologist testified all of Girard’s existing teeth at the time of autopsy were either broken or had cavities.

“(Dahl) constantly said that she followed Ms. Girard’s lead, but she did not. She followed what she believed Ms. Girard’s lead to be,” Fogel said. “It may have been unpleasant, even uncomfortable to have Ms. Girard seen by medical professionals at any point in 2018, as she was wasting away, but that was what it was Ms. Dahl’s duty to provide.’

Fogel also challenged the reliability of Dahl’s evidence.

“She believes what she says. I’m not attacking her credibility,” he said. “But her reliability is completely lacking unless it is independently confirmed.”

Orris told the court according to the autopsy report, there was nothing to indicate if it could be determined the starvation was “voluntary or involuntary.”

“The evidence was quite clear from (Dahl’s) mother, and from Ms. Dahl’s own description, that Flo had reached the end of her life,” Orris said. “And either consciously or unconsciously had decided not to consume food and to pass away as she wanted to, in my submission.”

Fogel argued there was never any evidence Girard voluntarily starved herself.

“Ms. Girard was continuing to eat, and yet was continuing to lose weight. That mandated medical attention,” he said. “The only evidence of Ms. Girard not wanting to go to the doctor is from Ms. Dahl.”

During her last day on the stand in cross examination, Dahl testified she had thought of calling 911 before Girard’s death.

Fogel: When did you first consider calling 911 for Ms. Girard?

Dahl: A few days before her death.

Fogel: How many days before her death?

Dahl: A few days before her death, the thought entered my mind, but then I wasn’t going to put her through that.

The exchange later continued.

Fogel: Did you contemplate calling 911 more than two days before she died?

Dahl: Did I contemplate it? Did I want that for her? No, I did not want that for her.

Fogel: I didn’t ask whether you wanted it for her, I asked whether you contemplated calling 911 more than two days before she died.

Dahl: I don’t know.

Dahl had previously testified Girard began showing less interest in food in 2018 and had less energy, and told the court she was hoping in her own mind this was “not her time” and the idea of palliative care “scared the hell out of me for Flo.” She testified she could not do her that “disservice.”

Dahl had testified on the night before Girard was found dead, she had been trying to give her fluids, and told the court Girard had smiled at her and said “I’m OK.”

During cross examination, Dahl disagreed with testimony from workers at Kinsight that she had never discussed Girard’s deteriorating health.

Two witnesses who worked at Kinsight also testified Dahl had never mentioned any issues taking Girard to medical appointments.

The case will be back in court next week to set a date for the judge’s decision.