Peter Tsetta has been sentenced to 9.5 years behind bars for two sexual assaults he committed within one month of each other in 2017.
In her decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau said the sexual assaults the two women experienced represent a problem of “epidemic proportions” facing many more people in Yellowknife.
With the standard credit of 1.5 days per day served prior to his sentencing, Tsetta will have five years and 11 months left in prison.
Just over a dozen people were present for sentencing Monday, with Cynthia Grandjambe in the front row, ringed by two supporters. Tsetta is convicted of sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an attack on Grandjambe, who had earlier asked a judge to lift a ban on publication of her name.
Tsetta was seated in a partially glassed-in box and not beside his lawyer for the appearance – Charbonneau explained this was a decision of the sheriff’s office following an “incident” after the verdict was delivered in August.
Charbonneau asked that those present “maintain decorum” during the proceedings. Tsetta, who wore a white long-sleeved shirt, gestured to a member of the audience before proceedings began.
Warning: This report contains details of a sexual assault case, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
The sentence imposed on Tsetta stems from two incidents in the summer of 2017. The first, involving a woman whose identity is protected by a publication ban, resulted in a conviction of sexual assault.
The second, which involved Grandjambe, saw Tsetta convicted of sexual assault and forcible confinement.
The attacks bore similarities: Tsetta had invited each woman to his home to continue drinking and, when they were unconscious and unable to consent, he sexually assaulted them. Charbonneau noted the same aggravating factors in both assaults – Tsetta supplied them with liquor, the women were passed out when assaulted, they could not consent and he took advantage of their “vulnerable state.”
The assaults happened while Tsetta was on bail for an unrelated March 2017 sexual assault. The charge in this case has since been stayed. At the time, victims’ advocated decried his release. It was also revealed during the trial that it took two months before the RCMP interviewed neighbours after Grandjambe reported the assault.
Charbonneau also noted she took into account the difficult aspects of Tsetta’s childhood in her sentencing. “His is a clear case of having suffered intergenerational trauma,” she said, noting a “dysfunctional home environment” plagued by alcohol use, physical abuse and poverty. By age 15, Tsetta had left home and eventually ended up on the streets.
Charbonneau stressed the need to balance what she called his “tragic” past with public safety. “He presents a very real danger to the safety of this community,” she said.
Tsetta’s criminal record, which dates back to 1987 and includes multiple convictions of assault as well as sexual assault, was included in Charbonneau’s final reasoning. While some convictions are dated, including a 1992 sexual assault, she said they were part of a pattern of criminality.
Charbonneau said crown prosecutor Annie Piche and defence lawyer Evan McIntyre were “very far apart” on the sentences they sought. The Crown wanted 10 years, while the defence asked for five.
With the 9.5 year sentence, Tsetta must also comply with a 10-year firearms prohibition and will remain on the national sex offender registry for life. Tsetta is also to have no contact with Grandjambe and must submit a mandatory DNA sample.
Speed up assault trials, says survivor
Grandjambe, who last month went public with her story, said she felt ecstatic about the verdict and glad the two-year court process had reached a conclusion.
“I’m just happy it’s over. I’m a little overwhelmed. But overall, I’m just grateful that it’s over and it’s done with and I can move on with my life now,” she told Cabin Radio.
Reflecting on the past two years, she said the process has been a difficult and long one but ultimately worth it.
Reliving in painful detail what happened to her has been difficult, Grandjambe said.
During the trial Grandjambe described waking up to Tsetta having forced intercourse on top of her, in a rape she said lasted “for hours.” During this time she testified she pleaded with him to stop, at one point breaking free and running to the front door only to find she could not open it. She said she believed the door had a hidden latch.
She was eventually able to leave, she testified, by talking her way out of the situation and promising not to tell the police what had happened. The crown described what Grandjambe had been through as “basically, torture, for a long period of time.”
“You’re constantly reliving what happened to you, and having to look at him, it makes me sick to my stomach,” Grandjambe said. “But I also had to face him because that was part of my healing for me, was having to face him.”
Grandjambe said it was “very unfair” to see Tsetta get the extra credit for time served, adding she spent a lot of time during the trial worrying about what sentence he would get and whether it would be too much time served. Shortening the court process would be one way to help survivors she added.
“The process has to be shortened because the only person that benefits is the guy that did the crime, not the victim, not the survivor,” she said.
Sexual assault at “epidemic proportions” says judge
Charbonneau remarked again in her decision Monday on what she has previously called a “staggering number” of sexual assaults in this jurisdiction which happen when a person drinks until they lose consciousness and awake to being assaulted.
During her time in court, Grandjambe said she has alleged survivors of Tsetta’s who haven’t come forward ask her to fight for them, something she said empowered her to “really fight” during the case.
Since putting her name out publicly, Grandjambe said women who have been assaulted have approached her over Facebook Messenger, and in person. She described hearing these stories as “hard, but worthwhile.”
“What is so scary is that a lot of women do not want to come forward because of the court process and how long it takes and because of their past been brought up,” she said. “It’s unreal the amount of times that it happens here in Yellowknife and it’s common.”
Deciding to ask for a removal of the ban surrounding her name, as well as speaking publicly today, is for Grandjambe about breaking the silence around rape.
“There’s always been such a taboo on the subject of sexual assault…it’s always been a hush hush case and…I decided it was time to just break the silence. Someone has to break the silence,” she said.
Starting up a survivors group, to allow those who have experiences of assault to share, is a start Grandjambe said. Whether or not they want to press criminal charges, women need to share their stories she said. At present, Grandjambe said there is “absolutely nothing” for those who have experienced rape. A space similar to Alison McAteer house, which assists women fleeing violence, is needed to help women with the trauma of sexual assault and to begin the healing process.
Grandjambe said the future involves moving forward as well as keeping herself open to hearing from survivors.
Correction: November 19, 2019 – 11:48 MT. This article initially stated Tsetta has five years and nine months left to serve. In fact, the total is five years and 11 months. Our reporting has been amended.