Behchokǫ̀ man sentenced to 25 months for sexual assault
A Northwest Territories Supreme Court judge has sentenced a man to 25 months in prison for what the court deems a major sexual assault committed in Behchokǫ̀ in late 2018.
Justice Andrew Mahar handed down the sentence to Kirk Mantla, 33, in a Yellowknife courtroom on Thursday afternoon.
With time served, Mantla has just seven days remaining in his sentence, which he will serve at the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. Once released, he will be on probation for one year.
The Crown prosecutor in the case, Billi Wun, had argued for a longer sentence of two and a half years in prison. Meanwhile, Mantla’s defence lawyer, Leslie Moore, had argued for a lighter sentence of two years less a day – the maximum sentence that can be served in territorial jail.
Mahar said the sentence will give Mantla a few days to “get his feet on the ground” and prepare for life outside jail.
“Hopefully this is the last time we see you in court,” he told him.
According to the agreed facts in the case, on December 1, 2018, a woman left a party in Behchokǫ̀ with a friend. They drove to FC Services and the friend went inside while the woman waited in the passenger seat of her truck. Mantla then got into the parked vehicle and drove off with her inside.
The woman said she was heavily intoxicated to the point of blacking out at the time. The next thing she remembered was Mantla sexually assaulting her in the back seat of the truck. She then remembers being in a friend’s driveway and calling them about the assault.
That friend took the woman, who was “highly distraught,” to the local health centre. There, evidence including Mantla’s DNA was collected as part of a sexual assault kit.
Mantla pleaded guilty to sexual assault following a preliminary inquiry – a pretrial hearing held to determine whether there is enough evidence for a case to proceed to trial.
Court traumatizing for survivors
Wun noted that while the guilty plea meant the woman did not have to testify in front of a jury, she did have to testify at the preliminary inquiry, which he said was “very difficult” for her.
Moore said that because Mantla was also intoxicated at the time of the assault and didn’t remember much of what happened, and had never been convicted of sexual assault before, it wasn’t a “simple thing” for him to conclude that he had committed the assault.
“It took a preliminary inquiry to get to that,” Moore said.
The defence lawyer also said his client “knows he did wrong” and wants to apologize to the woman, but understands that she may not want to see him.
Wun said the case warranted a longer sentence because the victim is an Indigenous woman and was “clearly in a vulnerable position” as she was highly intoxicated. He noted that sexual assaults involving alcohol are common in the Northwest Territories and judges have typically taken a strong stance against this type of crime.
While no victim impact statement was filed in the case, Wun said that many sexual assault survivors experience embarrassment, shame, and guilt, and fear coming forward. The criminal justice process can be traumatizing for survivors, he added.
Although this is Mantla’s first conviction for sexual assault, Wun said his criminal record does include convictions for other violent crimes. He was on bail for a charge of assault causing bodily harm when he committed the sexual assault. He later pleaded guilty to that charge.
Alcohol, trauma factor in crimes
In a pre-sentence report, Mantla indicated his alcohol use is a contributing factor in his crimes and said he would not have committed the sexual assault had he been sober.
Wun said these issues are not new and questioned what the man had done to address them prior to the sexual assault. He noted in the summer of 2018, Mantla moved back to Behchokǫ̀ – even though he said living in the community led him to use drugs and alcohol and get into trouble.
Moore said while his client has been in jail, he has taken steps to address his alcohol addiction, adding it’s not something that can be “cured after one day.”
“He’s trying to do better but he’s a lifelong addict,” he said.
Both the Crown and the defence acknowledged that Mantla’s difficult upbringing and the trauma he experienced played a role in his crimes.
Wun said Mantla’s background is not an excuse for his behaviour but helps to explain it.
Moore said as a child, Mantla witnessed the sexual assault of a family member, was beaten with a hockey stick by his father, and was placed in a room without food for some time. That abuse, Moore said, stems from the legacy of residential school.
“That’s the way his parents were treated,” he explained.
‘This is a man who has worth’
Moore said despite this, Mantla can turn his life around. He noted the Tłı̨chǫ man is fluent in his language and can survive on the land – skills he can pass on to his children and community members.
“This is a man who has worth. He still has value to society,” Moore said.
Given the opportunity to speak, Mantla addressed the court in his language through an interpreter. He told Mahar he does not want to commit any more crimes and that he wants to be with his common-law partner and their children.
“I’m very sorry for what I did wrong and I miss my family,” he said.
Mantla said he visited his father before he died in May 2019 and forgave him. He said his father then appeared to him in a dream where he told him to stop drinking.
“I’ll carry that in my heart forever.”
When delivering his sentence, Mahar said sexual assault is an “intensely intimate violation” that causes lifelong “appalling psychological damage” to victims, adding the crime is “all too common.”
He said “gross amounts of alcohol” can cause people to act in ways they would not otherwise. While that’s not an excuse for Mantla’s behaviour, Mahar said, that does mean he can be rehabilitated. He noted there is a gap in Mantla’s criminal record between 2013 and 2018 where he appears to have “got his act together.”
“You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you,” Mahar told him. “I believe you when you say you don’t want to be in this situation again.”
Conditions of Mantla’s probation include that he not consume alcohol or have contact with the victim.
As a sex offender, he must submit a DNA sample to be included in a national DNA data bank. He is also subject to a mandatory ban from possessing firearms for up to 10 years but can apply for an exemption for sustenance or employment purposes.
The decision follows Mantla’s successful appeal of a six month jail sentence for the assault causing bodily harm charge he was facing while he committed the sexual assault.
The Northwest Territories Court of Appeal found the trial judge made a mistake when she didn’t except a joint sentencing recommendation. The Crown prosecutor and defence lawyer in the case had agreed on a conditional sentence, or house arrest, for six months.