Warning: This report contains details heard in court that some readers may find disturbing.
Bleeding from being punched in the head, with her younger sister hiding in the bathroom screaming, a 17-year-old watched as her former partner poured gasoline on her house and set it on fire.
The sisters ran out of the house as police arrived at 5:30am in Whatì on May 4, a court heard last week.
The incident began when he came to the house three days after his relationship with the 17-year-old had ended.
“When [the 17-year-old] answers the door, [the man] grabs her by the hair, pulls her up the stairs, throws her down on the bed, punches her three times in her face, and scratches her face,” Crown prosecutor Levi Karpa told the court, reading an agreed statement of facts.
“He repeatedly asks her, who is she screwing now?”
During the altercation, the 11-year-old younger sister locked herself in the bathroom.
The sisters’ parents were away for the weekend at a cabin. When the man left, the 17-year-old locked the door and asked her sister to call the police.
Through a window, she saw the 23-year-old man – who is the father of her child – enter a shed and grab a can of gasoline. He poured gasoline around the outside of the house, igniting it in three different places.
The woman called police a second time, according to the statement of facts, before fleeing the house as the man also ran away.
RCMP officers gave chase and found the man hiding in a shed. They described him smelling of liquor, with swollen and bloodied knuckles. He had a lighter on him.
Police and firefighters managed to control the resulting house fire, which damaged the skirting and siding.
‘Clearly he needs help’
Last week, Territorial Court Chief Judge Christine Gagnon accepted a plea deal between the Crown and defence in which the man pleaded guilty to arson with disregard for life and assault. Three lesser charges were dropped.
The man has a minor, unrelated criminal record. Cabin Radio is not identifying the man as it could lead to the identity of the sisters.
“Factors that make this matter more serious are there is a domestic victim, he assaulted his former partner, and then lit her house on fire while she was inside,” said Karpa.
Defence lawyer Tracy Bock said his client did not place a lot of thought into what he did that early morning in May.
“It was spontaneous and alcohol was at play. He is taking responsibility even though he does not have a lot of memory of what happened,” said Bock.
“Jealously, infidelity, anger … when he consumes alcohol the anger in him is directed in a very aggressive manner.
“Clearly he needs help in dealing with the emotions of a relationship.”
Both of the man’s adoptive parents are residential school survivors, “but there are no indications that he was wanting when he was growing up,” said Bock, noting his client has a high-school education and had been working at the community store.
“[His parents] suffered trauma in their time in residential school, but they both supported each other and worked through their issues. [The man] says he felt loved during his upbringing.”
Gagnon agreed to the joint sentencing recommendation of two years less a day in territorial jail as a total sentence for the two crimes.
Gagnon told the man that despite the limited fire damage, the 11-year-old “was likely traumatized” and the 17-year-old was “very seriously injured by your action, the assault.”
“There is no doubt she will be seriously impacted by your actions,” said Gagnon.
Upon release, the 23-year-old will be under 18 months of probation, must report to a probation officer – likely in Behchokǫ̀ or Yellowknife as there isn’t one in Whatì – and must take any counselling directed.
He is to have no contact with the two sisters except through a sober third party regarding care for their child. (The court was not told where the infant was during the May 4 incident.)
There will be a firearms ban, though he can apply for an exception related to subsistence hunting.
The mother of the sisters has also demanded an apology from the man.
With his pre-trial credit of 156 days, the man has 573 days left to serve.