A woman charged with two Yellowknife convenience store robberies assaulted and threatened Fort Smith jail guards, including one who was eight months pregnant.
Cynthia Joy Lafferty, now 21, spat on two guards at the Fort Smith Correctional Complex guards, screaming profanities and threats of graphic physical violence before she was finally restrained on September 30, 2019.
Lafferty, who pleaded guilty to a series of charges, will discover the length of her sentence next week.
“[A guard said] this was one of the more violent incidents he had been involved in,” Crown prosecutor Duane Praught told Territorial Court on Friday.
“[The guard] who was eight months pregnant, it shocked her and left her feel vulnerable. It was her last day before maternity leave. The incident will always be on her mind.”
Lafferty was described in court as a crystal meth and crack cocaine addict since the age of 12, who robbed the two convenience stores in 2019 to fund her addiction.
“[What happened] in custody was an immature reaction from a scared little girl who felt she was feeling bullied,” said defence lawyer Jacqueline Halliburn.
“She loves her kids so much but couldn’t overcome her addiction, even for them. She’s deep in the throes of addiction.”
Robberies on camera
The court was shown surveillance camera footage from April 17, 2019, when Lafferty entered the Circle K convenience store – formerly known as Wink’s and Mac’s – on Forrest Drive at 2am.
She can be seen walking to the rear of the store and speaking to a man at the ATM. She then walks to the front of the store and waits for the lone clerk to go and assist the person at the ATM.
The footage shows Lafferty then reach over the counter, press buttons on the cash terminal, and grab some $100 in loose bills. She is seen quickly leaving the store.
It was the first time Lafferty had seen the video. She hung her head and was visibly upset as it played.
In a second video, from April 19, 2019 at 7:14pm, Lafferty – wearing a toque and with a neck-warmer pulled over her face – is seen entering Willy’s Convenience Store on Range Lake Road. She walks toward the lone clerk at the till and pulls out a knife.
The clerk grabs a long pole and pushes Lafferty back, but she swings the knife and manages to lunge over the counter. While still struggling with the clerk, Lafferty is shown grabbing about $300 in cash before leaving.
The clerk is seen throwing a chair at her as she runs through the doorway.
The court heard the clerk had identified Lafferty and she was later arrested after RCMP issued a public appeal for help locating her.
At the time, there had been several other – unrelated – robberies of convenience stores in the city. Since the robbery, the Willy’s clerk has felt “depressed, scared, and paranoid,” said Praught. “He’s always in fear of being robbed. He’s been struggling.”
Custody or rehab?
Lafferty has 12 convictions in youth court on her record, seven being violent in nature. She is of Métis descent and had a difficult upbringing, the court heard, being exposed to bullying, violence, and a lack of supervision. She has struggled with suicidal thoughts.
The Crown asked for a total sentence of 27 months, minus time served, following Lafferty’s guilty pleas to the two robberies, assaulting a peace officer, and uttering threats. (In exchange for the guilty pleas, other charges were withdrawn by the Crown.)
The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, orders sentencing judges to consider systemic or background factors when Indigenous offenders appear in court.
“Given Miss Lafferty’s history of violence … she really needs to get the message that she needs to change her ways,” said Praught. “Protection of the public is a primary concern.”
The defence asked for time served – Lafferty has 15 months of remand time built up – with a two-year supervised probation order. She has also agreed to enter an addiction treatment program.
“It’s a question of whether more custody is necessary, or is it time for rehabilitation?” asked Halliburn.
Judge Donovan Molloy reserved his decision on the sentence length until March 20.
Lafferty is now being held in one of four cells available to women at Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex.