Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.
A Gjoa Haven woman pregnant with her sixth child who stabbed her husband to death has been found not guilty of manslaughter because she was protecting herself after years of suffering violent abuse, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
The killing occurred in the couple’s kitchen on June 25, 2017. The accused was preparing dinner when she and her husband were arguing, shouting at each other and he was moving toward her. She used a 30-cm knife to stab her spouse of almost 10 years a single time, fatally puncturing his lung and heart. However, she testified that she intended to stab him in the arm after he threatened her, and she took him to the health centre for treatment following the incident.
“She testified that she was not trying to kill (her husband). She was just trying to stop him from hurting her and the baby. (The accused) agreed with the Crown that she was angry and frustrated but said she was also scared when she stabbed (her husband),” who had been calling her obscene names and was “acting weird,” the court decision stated.
“I find that (the accused) had a subjective belief based upon reasonable grounds that (her husband) was making a threat of force against her. (The husband) was angry. They were in close quarters in the kitchen,” Justice Susan Charlesworth wrote. “He came up close to her after she hit him on the head and confronted her. She testified that she was afraid he might hurt her or her unborn baby. (The husband) is significantly taller and heavier than (the accused). He could easily overpower her.”
He was six-foot-three. She’s five-foot-one.
“Given her vulnerability, recognizing how physically outmatched she was, I am satisfied (the wife’s) use of force was not out of proportion to the threat of violence she was experiencing at the time of the incident,” Charlesworth stated. “I find that her actions were justifiable, and I find her not guilty of manslaughter… This case is tragic. Children lost a father. A family lost a son. (The wife) will live with what took place on June 25, 2017 for the rest of her life. ”
While being questioned by the RCMP at the health centre after he was stabbed – shortly before his death – the husband said, ‘I told her to stab me,” and “I was stupid to say that.”
The accused said that she had repeatedly been subject to intimate partner violence for years, and proof of that was heard in court.
A friend of the accused testified that she saw her with black eyes three or four times over the years and knew that the harm came at the hands of her spouse. Her friend described one incident where the accused was hiding in the dark in a bedroom at her parents’ place. When the friend turned the light on, she saw that the accused had bruises and swelling on her face. The accused said her husband beat her up.
Various RCMP reports were also presented in court. They documented several reported incidents between 2010-2017 that involved punches, hair pulling, scratching, shaking, and, on at least one occasion, the abuse – a blow to the stomach – occurred while the wife was pregnant. She sustained a broken cheek bone in one of the encounters. Some of these violent episodes resulted in charges against the husband.
“It is incumbent upon the Nunavut Court of Justice to consider the high number of Inuit who live in abusive and violent situations, have deep and traumatic memories of abuse, or have witnessed a close family member being abused, assaulted or killed. These factors must inform this court’s judgments in situations involving intimate partner violence,” Charlesworth stated.
The judge cited a 2006 report by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada on preventing violence in Inuit communities, which reads: “Too often, services for crime victims in the North operate in isolation of each other. Lacking a systematic and coordinated approach, efforts to prevent victimization in Inuit communities are hindered by gaps in services; inequitable distribution of resources; burnout and loss of trained staff; an absence of training and support for front-line workers; and incomplete program evaluation.”
Charlesworth said the system must change to provide more support to victims of intimate partner violence.
“Absent such support, the cycle of violence will continue in the territory and undoubtedly lead to tragedies like this coming before the NCJ (Nunavut Court of Justice) for adjudication. Such tragedies do not need to be inevitable,” the judge wrote.