Warning: This report contains details of a violent domestic assault, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Marina St Croix refuses to be hidden behind a publication ban. She wants to speak out in the hope of breaking a cycle of domestic violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The victim of a New Year’s Eve 2018 home invasion and stabbing by her then-estranged husband – an act described as “brutal, gruesome, senseless and tragic” by the Crown – wants her story to provide strength to others.
“This crime has had a great impact on my emotions. It has left me angry and confused, sad and scared. I’m left exhausted,” she told a Yellowknife courtroom on Thursday by video link.
Her former husband, 26-year-old Tariq St Croix, was being sentenced for breaking and entering and aggravated assault.
Despite being bound by two court orders at the time, Tariq broke a window in Marina’s Williams Avenue home, grabbed a steak knife and attacked her as she held a young child. Marina was pregnant at the time.
She passed her 18-month-old infant to another child, who started dialling the police.
The court heard Tariq repeatedly said, “You don’t love me,” during the attack, which left the residence covered in blood stains.
The attack only stopped when the knife broke off in her stomach.
Marina tried to flee onto her balcony – where moments earlier she had been preparing to watch the city’s fireworks display – but was dragged back inside and kicked in the face.
“I want justice and a publication ban would bring me no justice as I [try] to break the cycle of domestic violence,” said Marina, who is now a mother of five.
“This crime has left me feeling worthless. Even though I have done nothing wrong, I am left to deal with guilt.
“This experience is similar to death itself.”
Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau confirmed Marina did not want her name protected from publication.
In her victim impact statement, Marina explained how her mental health deteriorated.
At the time, she was already suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after earlier attacks by the same man. As a result, she said, she now mistrusts men. She has withdrawn mostly into her home and pulled back from her studies to be a nurse.
Physically, she has chronic pain and scars on her forehead, chest, arms and stomach. One of her breasts is disfigured. She spent time at a shelter in Alberta to recover, suffered infections that required hospitalization, and is still awaiting more surgeries.
Possibility of deportation
Tariq St Croix has been in custody at Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex since the night of the attack. Marina said she fears her former husband will find a way to escape “as Denecho King did” and return to harm her.
She said protection orders and probation orders “have proven time and again not to keep us safe” and demanded more protection for Indigenous victims of domestic violence.
“I see [there are] Gladue laws to protect Indigenous men who commit crimes, but no laws to protect Indigenous victims, so I feel worthless. We women are being murdered at an unprecedented rate, yet those who commit violent crimes against us aren’t getting maximum sentences,” she said as her mother wept in the courtroom.
“The abuser’s freedom is the end of our freedom and the start of our captivity, when we have to hide out in hotels and shelters. I ask that you consider our safety and grant Tariq the highest possible sentence that you can, given the fact that he did willingly plead guilty.”
She addressed Charbonneau directly and said she wanted the judge to know about her and hear her story “in case [Tariq’s] future release leads to my murder.”
The Crown and defence had come to a joint sentencing agreement in exchange for a guilty plea. A charge of attempted murder was dropped.
The joint recommendation is for a five-year sentence to be followed by three years of supervised probation with conditions. The man has agreed to leave the Northwest Territories and not return.
St Croix has a little more than three years of standard remand credit – each day in custody counts as 1.5 days – meaning he will have less than two years left to serve.
As a permanent resident, it is likely St Croix will be deported to St Lucia, the popular Caribbean tourist destination where he grew up.
However, as a refugee, he is considered a “protected person” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and not subject to automatic deportation. He is entitled to a “danger opinion” risk assessment, which could take some time to complete after he is released from jail, though he will remain under a probation order.
St Croix has a criminal record that includes a January 2017 conviction for assault causing bodily harm and assault on Marina, along with resisting arrest and failure to comply with a court order.
In March 2018, he was convicted of assault and two counts of uttering threats against Marina, along with failure to comply with a court order.
In June 2018, he was charged with assault and breaching probation. He was then released on bail.
Marina said the two separated in June 2018 as Tariq’s violence had escalated. They have since divorced.
Five years at ‘the very low end’
Crown attorney Blair MacPherson characterized the attack on Marina as “the ultimate form of domestic violence” and admitted the joint sentence recommendation was at “the very low end of the range.”
Justice Charbonneau agreed, indicating she was not impressed with the severity of the proposed penalty. She reminded the court she is bound by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling to accept a joint recommendation unless it could be seen as a breakdown in the proper functioning of the justice system.
“Five years, on these facts that you have very eloquently been talking about, is very, very on the low end,” she told the prosecutor. “I need to hear why … I must ask how you get there?”
MacPherson noted St Croix’s early guilty plea and said “while the Crown’s case wasn’t strong on paper,” there were some issues early on with witness cooperation.
With the agreement, no testimony was required by anyone, including the child who witnessed the attack.
He also noted under the agreement, St Croix will be sentenced to just under two years in jail, to be followed by three years of supervised probation outside the NWT. Federal officials will look at deporting him.
Charbonneau said she will consider the recommendation and, if she rejects it, will ask the lawyers for more submissions. The law also requires accused persons be given the opportunity of withdrawing their guilty plea if a judge rejects a joint submission.
“Counsel have become the sentencing judge in many of these cases,” said Charbonneau. “The law is the law but, if I was a member of the public, I might ask, ‘How does that work?’
“But it is the law and I have to follow it.”
Defence lawyer Katherine Oja agreed the submission was “the very low end of the range” for this type of offence, given the circumstances of the offence and the offender.
“But I don’t think we’re in a situation where this is not a fit sentence,” she said.
Oja noted St Croix had a troubled childhood living in poverty in St Lucia. He was beaten and his parents forced him to smoke marijuana as a child.
His parents separately moved to Canada. His father first lived in Yellowknife and then in BC, while his mother moved to Toronto.
When asked if he had anything to say, St Croix stood and read a lengthy letter that included philosophy, poetry and spiritual passages.
“Marina and I were just not meant to be together,” he said, while apologizing to his ex-wife and her family.
“It was catastrophic from the start.”
Charbonneau reserved her decision until February 25.
Correction: February 12, 2021 – 20:43 MT. Based on information in an agreed statement of facts entered in court, this article initially stated Marina and Tariq St Croix had two children together. Marina contacted us after publication to state she has one child with Tariq. This article has been updated accordingly.