A man who sexually assaulted his niece multiple times over seven years – leaving her feeling “numb and alone” – was sentenced this week to three years behind bars.
Territorial Court Judge Christine Gagnon said on Wednesday: “Any five-year-old child deserves their parents’ family to love them and to keep them safe.
“When this child is left with their uncle, they expect to be loved and protected by this person just like their parents would. The last thing a five-year-old child expects from their family is sexual violence.
“This was not a one-time brief incident. These were assaults perpetrated over and over on a very young person … by a person in a position of trust. Judging by the victim impact statement, [the girl] is still struggling to come to terms with this. I find that the degree of responsibility of the accused is high.”
Gagnon said she gave “anxious consideration” to the background factors of the Indigenous offender, and noted “he seems to have turned a page and is in a better place now than at the time when he committed the offences.”
He has been working, has been sober for eight years, and has taken counselling to help him come to grips with his own traumatic upbringing.
Gagnon noted his substance abuse problems help explain the reason behind his crimes, but do not justify them.
“The issue for me to resolve is the length of the sentence of imprisonment, which would properly balance the need for denunciation and deterrence while holding the accused responsible for his actions and [providing for his rehabilitation],” she said.
The judge noted alcohol, violence, and drugs are prevalent in the community where the offence took place – largely as a result of cultural traditions being displaced and multi-generational trauma through colonization and forced attendance at residential schools.
The judge said many community members lack the education or skills to take advantage of the few job opportunities in the community.
‘I don’t know how to make it up’
While the uncle didn’t attend residential school, both of his parents are survivors. They suffered from addiction and fought violently with each other as he was growing up.
The uncle was also sexually abused as a young person.
The attacks on the girl took place over several periods between 2005 and 2012, when she was in her middle childhood.
In a victim impact statement read by Crown prosecutor Emma Skowron at the man’s sentencing hearing in July, the girl stated: “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 was in the public gallery that day in July – she wasn’t in court for the sentencing decision on Wednesday – and held hands with her tearful mother.
The prosecutor told the court the girl thought she had done something to warrant the attacks and kept them secret for many years. She at times missed school and, as she grew older, also missed shifts at her job.
The uncle, now in his forties, pleaded guilty last November to one count of sexual assault. In exchange, multiple additional charges related to the same victim were dropped by the Crown. That one charge was to essentially represent the entirety of his crimes.
He had been free 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 identification of those he assaulted cannot be published.
The man’s lawyer, Mallorie Malone, had hoped for a sentence of two years or less plus a “lengthy” period of probation.
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?”
In addition to the sentence – which Judge Gagnon recommended be served at an institution in the North – the man may not, for three years once released, hold a job or volunteer post that would put him in a position of trust over anyone aged under 16.
He will also be on the national sex offenders’ registry for life. He can use firearms only for sustenance purposes. He must supply a DNA sample for the national crime databank.