‘No option’ but to jail woman who threw knife at shelter worker

Last modified: July 16, 2019 at 2:12pm

A woman who threatened to stab a female worker inside Yellowknife’s day shelter and sobering centre – and then threw a knife at her – “needs to be locked up to protect the public,” a judge said.

Debbie Anne Ailanak has 49 convictions for violent crimes, including a bank robbery and dozens of court order violations, a court was told on Monday.

“I have to protect the public,” Territorial Court Judge Robert Gorin said in sentencing Ailanak to 14 months.


The sentence accounted for both the knife incident and an earlier series of threatening and harassing acts against an employee of Yellowknife’s women’s shelter.

Ailanak “has been very resistant to attempts at rehabilitation to improve her behaviour,” said the judge. “[She] poses a clear risk to society.”

Ailanak’s lawyer said the 46-year-old is homeless and has a range of diagnosed psychological conditions.

Crown prosecutor Duane Praught told court Ailanak was on probation when she showed up at the downtown day shelter and sobering centre on May 25 and was refused entry. 

Angered, Ailanak pushed her way into the kitchen area of the facility and grabbed a knife.


She pointed it at a female employee and “threatened to slice her up” before throwing the weapon at the worker, said Praught.

“She threw it at her, just missing her,” he said. “[Ailanak] then picked up a coffee mug and threw it at her, again just missing her.”

Ailanak pleaded guilty Monday to uttering death threats and assault with a weapon for that incident, with the Crown dropping four other lesser charges.

She also pleaded guilty to assault and criminal harassment for a string of incidents that took place from April 19 to 24 at the women’s shelter. The Crown dropped two other lesser charges.


On one occasion, an angry Ailanak showed up at the shelter covered in feces and blood. Refused entry, she pushed the long-time employee at the door out of the way before police were called.

On several other occasions, Ailanak would appear outside the same shelter worker’s home, screaming threats and insults. The worker’s daughter-in-law and three children were in the home.

“[These incidents] were more stressful than anything else [for the shelter employee],” said Praught. “She is left questioning how she can continue to do her work.

“These facilities are meant to help the community. [Ailanak’s actions] hinder the rehabilitation of other people. She is making the work … much more difficult than it has to be. She is a detriment to the community.”

Limited options

Defence lawyer Leslie Moore told court Ailanak is a homeless person who has diagnosed psychological conditions – including bipolar disorder – and “serious” anger issues.

The court also heard Ailanak could have a form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and has frontal lobe damage, perhaps from the time in her life when she was “huffing,” or inhaling solvents to get high.

Ailanak’s personality is tempered when she takes her prescribed medication, but she often chooses not to do so.

Moore noted there are limited options available for Ailanak, and she will likely need the services of the very shelters from which she will now be barred once she leaves jail.

“Does Debbie Ailanak deserve jail? It appears there is no other option,” he said, noting his client had a difficult upbringing and also qualifies for Gladue consideration. The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, requires judges to take into consideration circumstances facing Indigenous peoples in order to arrive at an appropriate sentence.

Judge Gorin sentenced Ailanak to a total of 14 months in jail, after which she will be on two years’ supervised probation. She will be ordered not to have any contact or communication with either of the shelter workers she victimized, and not to attend either of the facilities without written permission from her probation officer.

Ailanak has amassed 6.5 months of pre-trial credit in custody, meaning she has 7.5 months left to serve in her sentence.

In October 2015, she was convicted of robbing the downtown TD Bank. A month earlier, Ailanak had entered the bank at 10:55am, demanded money, and indicated that she had a gun.

After receiving some cash, she ran off, only to be arrested a short time later near the Northern Lites Motel. Police said she did not have a firearm.