Courts Rule Mother and Neighbor Guilty in Child's Death

Mother, neighbor guilty in killing kid in fit of exorcism 
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

The mother and neighbor of a two-year-old child who died during an exorcism last year were found guilty of manslaughter last Friday.   Kira Canhoto died Jan. 13, 1995, after an exorcism ritual that involved restraining the toddler and force-feeding her water while she struggled on her grandmother's lap in the kitchen of Aguiar's Cambridge, Ont., home. 

 "Maria Canhoto as mother and Daniel Aguiar as homeowner . . . showed a wanton disregard for Kira's safety," said Judge Roger Salhany. "A religious belief, even though genuinely held, does not provide a defense." 

Salhany added that the law demands that "the ordinary citizen, even one with strong religious beliefs, will be more concerned with physical well-being of the child rather than their spiritual well-being."

Court had heard that Maria Canhoto, 23, and the child's grandmother, Ana Maria Canhoto, 44, believed the girl was possessed by an evil spirit. They believed that through prayer and swallowing water, Kira would vomit and the evil would be expelled. Maria Canhoto was sentenced earlier this month to two years less a day in jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter. 

Testimony showed Kira Canhoto struggled, cried and screamed before she died. Salhany said while the grandmother caused the death, the mother and Aguiar were "parties to the offense." "Daniel Aguiar is the father of four children. Surely a reasonable parent . . . would have the capacity to appreciate the child's safety was at risk," said Salhany. 

During the trial, evidence showed that Aguiar, 57, held the child's feet during the force-feeding. Aguiar's wife Donatilde was also charged with manslaughter, but Salhany dismissed charges against her this week because evidence showed she was asleep on the couch in the living room during the critical time. 

Salhany said the autopsy report, which determined that Kira Canhoto had deep bruises on her neck, nose and on her internal organs, was significant. "It is obvious from this report that this child must have struggled violently to survive," he said. 

Salhany said there is no difference in law between what Maria Canhoto did and what a parent does when they deliberately refuse to give a child insulin for religious reasons.

Kira Canhoto lay dead on the floor for two days before being brought to hospital Jan. 15, 1995, where she was pronounced dead. 


This story is appalling.  I have a difficult time imagining anyone being so naive that they can sit and watch a child be tortured, let alone be a participant by either helping with torturing, holding the child, or "sleeping on the couch.?."  And who could sleep when there must have been such agonizing screams by the child; and I'm sure the adults were shouting as well. 

I am glad they were tried for murder and sentenced to jail.  But in reading this story, two things stood out in my mind, and I have highlighted them. 

First was the "...even one with strong religious beliefs will be more concerned with the physical well-being than the spiritual..."  I think I know what he is saying, but I have to tell you that when I consider the fleeting moment of our time here on earth compared to eternity in heaven, I am more concerned with the eternal.  But being concerned with the eternal doesn't mean I have a disregard for life here.  I personally don't think you can separate our "physical" from our "spiritual" life.  They are intertwined.  We are made up of body, soul and spirit.  You can't separate them. 

What difference would this have on the verdict of these people?  None.  It just struck me that this statement had been made.  I think that it is just as much murder if someone were to destroy the "spiritual" part of someone.  We have many walking wounded among us who have been through such horrible spiritual abuse that they are cut off from this part of themselves...they can't trust, let alone love a God who is like that, and they can't trust so called "Christians" or whatever group was responsible for their abuse.  Had this child lived, what a horrible, distorted view she would have had of God. 

The other issue that doesn't set well with me is the one comparing this case to someone who refuses medical treatment for their children because of religious beliefs.  I don't see the comparison at all.  In this case, they were not leaving a child's fate in God's hands.  They were taking it upon themselves to kill her, intended or not.  They weren't lovingly praying for this child's healing, they were viciously torturing her to death.  Christ didn't torture people who were possessed (I don't believe this child was possessed by the way).  He set them free.  He didn't force them to be still or pour water down their throats, he simply spoke to the demons and told them to leave. 

In cases where someone does not believe in medical assistance, they are not dooming their child to certain death...they are trusting God to heal.  And  how many times have people been healed when even doctors have given up.  So their faith is not unfounded.  They just believe more in God's ability than in the doctors.  They also believe God is the one who ultimately decides who is to live or die. 

I personally believe God has given us doctors and the knowledge and tools to help people.  I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says we are not to use doctors.  But I've also heard of cases where treatment would have only prolonged the agony of a child, no cure possible, yet treatment was being forced on that child just because the child wasn't old enough to decide and the government thought their way was better.  They weren't the ones who had to sit and watch their child suffer, or wonder if their child would be alive had they been allowed to take her to another country and try other methods of healing.  They can make decisions and go on their merry way and never think twice about it. 

I don't know where the balance is, or what the answer is.  When dealing with people, one answer doesn't always fit every case.  It's not always black and white.  And in our country, it certainly doesn't make sense that a doctor can take the life of a child before birth or even during (and I'm sure even after), or can help someone commit suicide and go free because it's a gray area or a political issue, yet a good family can face murder charges because they place the lives of their children in the hands of God.