While she won’t be going to prison, Port Coquitlam caregiver Astrid Dahl was officially sentenced to 15 months in prison, following a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision.
Dahl failed to provide the necessaries of life for Florence Girard.
Girard, who had Down syndrome, died on Oct. 13, 2018 after starving to death while in Dahl’s care.
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As Dahl would have started serving that prison sentence in late-September 2022 and had already served 10 months of her original sentence, she was deemed to have finished her prison sentence as of July.
The judgment also granted the former caregiver five months’ credit. Convicts often have their sentence reduced by one-third as a reward for good behaviour.
‘Demonstrably unfit’ sentence
Originally, the court gave Dahl 100 hours of community service. She also required to obey a curfew for six months, check in by telephone with a supervisor at Tri Cities Adult Community Corrections and undergo counselling.
Given the crime, that sentence was “demonstrably unfit,” according to B.C. Court Appeal Justice Patrice Abrioux.
In passing the original judgment, Justice E. David Crossin found Dahl’s conduct stemmed, in part, from her compassion for Girard. While that compassion was “fatally” and “irrationally” distorted, it still mitigated her moral blameworthiness, according to Crossin.
In the final assessment, Dahl truly believed she was “doing the right thing,” Crossin wrote.
“Dahl appears firmly on a road to coming to terms with the consequences of her actions, although it appears to continue to be a lengthy road of reconciliation for her,” Crossin wrote, explaining why he found incarceration unnecessary.
Justice Abrioux disagreed.
Girard lived in Dahl’s home and was “wholly dependent” on Dahl, Abrioux wrote.
“It is hard to imagine a greater conferral of trust,” he added.
That trust, Girard’s vulnerability, and the fact paid caregivers “represent an audience for whom general deterrence is particularly important,” are all key factors to be considered, according to Abrioux.
Abrioux also differed with Crossin on the issue of abuse.
Crossin wrote: “there was no evidence of abuse as that term is understood in these types of cases.”
No matter Dahl’s motives or compassion, her actions resulted in Girard dying by starvation, which “may well have been avoided” had Dahl sought medical help. That constituted abuse, Abrioux found.
While Abrioux was influenced by Dahl’s testimony that the caregiver was trying to get fluids into Girard, even to the last minute, her failure to seek medical care when it was “patently obvious” that Girard’s life was in danger cannot be ignored.
Originally from England, Dahl was doing part-time work at a group home in Surrey for individuals with schizophrenia in 1990. She first met Girard shortly after.
In 2010, Girard moved in with Dahl. There were annual contracts between Dahl and Kinsight Community Society.
For many years there was a “loving and close relationship,” which made the events that followed: “a most unusual and tragic case,” Abrioux wrote.
In 2018, Dahl noticed Girard getting thinner and frailer, something she attributed to “aging and dementia.”
Girard showed less interest in food, according to Dahl.
‘She might as well be at home’
While the prospect of palliative care was broached, Dahl testified that she couldn’t live with herself if she put Girard into care.
When her client’s health declined and she began to lose weight, Dahl said she never asked Girard if she wanted to see a doctor, explaining that she knew what Girard’s answer would be.
Toward the end of Girard’s life, Dahl said she didn’t want to take her client to a doctor as it would have been traumatic for Girard.
Dahl also said that Girard, when she could communicate, kept saying she was fine.
According to Dahl, in the last few days of her life, Girard was just spitting out a drink supplement or allowing it to dribble out of her mouth.
Dahl said she considered calling 911 but ultimately decided against it.
“What are they going to do — she might as well be at home,” Dahl testified.
In her statement to police, Dahl said she thought Girard was “pretty good” and had a “good appetite” and was “good” in the last three days of her life.
A doctor testified that Girard’s appearance indicated a slow process of starvation. He also testified that medical attention can help a starving patient and that intravenous fluids or force-feeding can be used when a patient is either unable or unwilling to eat.
There was “no cogent evidence” that Girard decided not to eat because she accepted the end of her life had come, according to the judgment.
Dahl expressed deep sadness for what she called “her loss.”
“She told the judge that she did not know she was breaking the law, but that she accepted full responsibility for her actions,” according to the judgment.
Dahl was previously acquitted of criminal negligence causing Girard’s death.
She is now set to serve 12 months probation.
Two other justices concurred with the judgment.