On March 13, Justice Shannon Smallwood sided with the Crown and sentenced a Fort Resolution man to a total of five years in prison for two sexual assaults.
Two weeks after he was released on bail – accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl – Frank Pierrot then raped his 29-year-old niece, a court had earlier heard.
Both women were unconscious during the attacks, having drunk significant quantities of alcohol. Pierrot, 53, claims he was also too drunk to remember what he did.
Peter Harte, Pierrot’s defence lawyer, believed the case to be a test of the NWT justice system’s readiness to find new ways of handling and rehabilitating Indigenous offenders.
Harte said in February he believes traditional criminal sentencing “very, very rarely” offers the kind of effective deterrent the justice system envisions.
Pierrot’s case appears to provide an example. He has a lengthy criminal record – 44 convictions dating back to 1984 – and committed the rape in this latest case two weeks after being released on bail following another sexual assault.
Meanwhile, rates of Indigenous incarceration across Canada have been termed “a national travesty.” Virtually all NWT inmates are Indigenous.
Pierrot, however, “is a serious threat to public safety,” Crown prosecutor Duane Praught told the NWT Supreme Court as he suggested the man serve a six-year sentence.
Praught said Pierrot was a threat “specifically to young women who may find themselves intoxicated in the presence of Mr Pierrot when he is intoxicated.”
One victim was 14 years old, Praught said.
“She was a young girl, and he was in his early 50s. The type of trauma these victims – and their family and friends – will suffer will be long term.”
After a trial in Hay River, Pierrot was found guilty of sexual assault and sexual interference for what he did to the 14-year-old in August 2017.
The Crown stayed the sexual assault charge.
Warning: The remainder of this article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assaults that readers may find disturbing.
Last month, Pierrot pleaded guilty to the August 2019 sexual assault of his niece.
The court heard the first incident had involved Pierrot drinking with the 14-year-old, with another young female present, at the house of an older male friend in Fort Resolution.
The teenager passed out on a bed, later waking up to find Pierrot conducting sex acts on top of her.
“She screamed and kicked Mr Pierrot off of her,” said Praught. “Her male friend was eventually woken up [with] some difficulty, as he was quite intoxicated, and … Mr Pierrot was asked to leave.”
The second incident occurred two weeks after Pierrot was released on bail with conditions regarding the first offence.
On August 16, 2019, Pierrot was drinking alcohol with his 29-year-old niece at his residence in Fort Resolution.
“They were both highly intoxicated,” Praught said, noting the woman had passed out on a couch.
Pierrot removed her pants and underwear and had intercourse with her without using a condom, said Praught.
The rape was interrupted by two teenagers who entered the residence and saw what was happening. They called police.
When officers arrived, they found Pierrot sitting on the couch, his pants pulled up but fly undone. The woman was still unconscious. It took police three “sternum rubs” to wake her up, Praught said.
Alcoholic, drug addict
Noting there are several Gladue factors in Pierrot’s case, the Crown asked for a global sentence of six years for both offences. (The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, states judges must consider the background factors that may have played a part in bringing an Indigenous offender before the courts – and the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions that may be appropriate because of their background.)
Neither woman provided victim impact statements to the court. The identities of both are protected.
“There is a high prevalence of sexual assaults in the communities in the Northwest Territories and, unfortunately, a high prevalence of these types of sexual assaults against passed-out, intoxicated young Aboriginal women,” said Praught.
Defence lawyer Harte said Pierrot has recognized he is an alcoholic and drug addict and wants to be put on medication to lower his sex drive.
Pierrot was sexually and physically abused as a child. His parents were residential school survivors.
Pierrot has been using hard drugs – including crystal meth, sniffing solvents and gasoline – and hopes to get counselling and treatment for addictions and abuse, Harte said.
“He simply wanted to forget about what happened to him,” said Harte, noting Pierrot has spent much of his life living on the streets.
‘All my life I’ve felt ashamed’
Harte asked Justice Shannon Smallwood to consider a “rather dramatic departure” from the federal prison sentence called for by the Crown.
Harte noted the over-representation of Indigenous offenders in the prison system and argued Pierrot wouldn’t received the type of treatment he needs.
“The growing, disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous offenders just isn’t going away,” said Harte, adding the prospect of incarceration doesn’t appear to be acting as a deterrent to people before they commit a crime.
Existing sentencing guidelines “are not achieving the goal of deterrence or reducing crime,” he said.
“Fixing Mr Pierrot would be better than putting him into a system that is not dealing appropriately … with Indigenous offenders.”
Harte called for a territorial jail sentence of two years less a day, followed by a banishment order from Fort Resolution and strict probation allowing Pierrot to receive the residential treatment he needs.
Harte argued such a sentence would signal the justice system is ready to address the over-representation of Indigenous offenders in the prison system.
Pierrot broke down and wept when asked if he had anything to say to the court.
“I’ve been drinking all of my life and doing drugs, sniffing,” he said, offering two letters of apology to be delivered to his victims.
“I feel ashamed right now. All my life I’ve felt ashamed. I’m sorry.”
‘A significant threat’
Smallwood on March 13 sentenced Pierrot to five years. With the remand credit he had built up, he has 43.5 months left to serve.
“[These victims] were either asleep or passed out when Mr Pierrot assaulted them,” said Smallwood. “He was on release for the first sexual assault when he committed the second sexual assault.
“He is a significant threat to young, Aboriginal women while [he is] using alcohol.”
Smallwood noted Pierrot’s significant criminal record, which included convictions for violent offences, robbery, and a manslaughter.
Smallwood ordered Pierrot be placed on the national sex offender registry for life, be placed in the national DNA databank, and be banned from owning firearms for 10 years.