The damage done to a family by an uncle guilty of incest was described in emotional detail in a Yellowknife courtroom last week.
“I felt numb and alone,” the girl stated in a victim impact statement, read in court on Friday by Crown prosecutor Emma Skowron. “I lost my childhood when he touched me. I’m still learning to talk about my feelings.
“I would sometimes break down and cry at night to my Mom.”
The girl held hands with her tearful mother in the public gallery, with her uncle sitting a few metres away, his head bowed and arms crossed over his white checkered shirt.
The prosecutor told the court the girl thought she had done something to warrant the attacks and kept the secret for many years. She at times missed school and, as she grew older, some shifts at her job.
The attacks on the girl took place over several periods of time between 2005 and 2010 when the girl was in her middle childhood.
When the man was babysitting, he would take her into a bedroom and, over the years, progressed from over-the-clothes touching to digital penetration and forced oral sex.
“I’m scared of some male family members when they get too friendly … my heart starts to race,” the prosecutor quoted the girl as stating.
The girl is fearful her uncle might try to attack her again, since she finally spoke out about his abuse to her. She is also “scared” over what some members of her family might do to the offender, should they cross paths.
The uncle, now in his 40s, pleaded guilty last November to one count of sexual assault in exchange for six additional sexual assault charges – plus seven counts of sexual interference and one of invitation to sexual touch – being dropped by the Crown.
He has been on bail with conditions since last year.
His criminal record includes a prior sexual assault in 1991 when he was a young offender. He also has a conviction in 2016 for a sexual assault against another niece years earlier.
Any details that could lead to the identity of his victims cannot be published.
Skowron noted the established starting point for sex assault on a minor in the NWT is four years. Taking the man’s guilty plea into consideration, she asked for a sentence of three years in prison, with a lifetime entry on the national sex offender registry.
She also asked that he be barred from being around minors for 20 years.
“The gravity of this offence is high … it will have a very big impact on her life physically, emotionally,” said Skowron. “He was committing the same acts on two of his nieces at the same time.”
The man’s lawyer, Mallorie Malone, told the court her client had a “traumatic” childhood – both his parents attended residential school – which included family violence, ongoing alcohol abuse, and sexual assaults against him.
“I would suggest [he] is extremely remorseful for the actions that brings him before the court,” said Malone, in her lengthy submissions. “Most importantly, he accepts responsibility and appreciates the gravity for what he has done.”
The man has been sober for eight years, “an exceptional achievement” for which he is extremely proud. He has taken some counselling and has found it to be very helpful, said the lawyer.
Malone quoted from a pre-sentence report in which her client stated about his niece: “I don’t blame her and I feel sorry for hurting her. I don’t know how to make it up to her. How can I make up for something like that?”
Malone told the court Gladue factors should weigh heavily in the sentencing process for her client. The Gladue principle, named for Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, is a Supreme Court ruling from the 90s which requires judges to consider unique systemic or background factors that may bring an Indigenous offender before the courts and select sentences accordingly.
Malone also made the argument that her client’s 2016 sexual assault conviction against another one of his young nieces can’t be considered as part of his criminal record for sentencing purposes.
That’s because the current case emerged after 2016, even though the crimes were years earlier, the lawyer said.
Malone called for a sentence of two years or less, plus a “lengthy” period of probation with counselling to support the man’s own childhood trauma.
Malone initially tried to have the sentencing put over to a later date, as her client is working and a key provider of support to his family. Judge Christine Gagnon denied that request, noting the victim and her mother were in court and agreeing with the Crown in not wanting to make them have to return again.
Gagnon also noted she would be reserving her decision in any event until late September. She will also be reading her decision in person in the community where the offences took place and where the offender lives.