Warning: This report contains details of a violent domestic assault, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Marina St Croix says the man who repeatedly slashed her with a steak knife while she was pregnant with their child received a light sentence in a plea deal finalized on Thursday.
Though Tariq St Croix could be deported after his five-year sentence ends, and cannot enter the NWT during his three-year probation, she still fears for her safety.
“I feel like this is a very low end of the punishment,” Marina said outside Yellowknife’s courthouse after a Thursday morning hearing in Supreme Court.
“I know he is going to be looking at a possible deportation … he’s going to be flown somewhere else [first] and released in Edmonton, or released in Kamloops, or released in Ontario. That, to me, doesn’t provide me with a shield of protection when all my protection has been a piece of paper that he has violated before.
“They are just going to give him a piece of paper saying ‘don’t come here,’ but that’s probably exactly what he will do, because this is now the second time he has tried to kill me.”
Marina said she still suffers physically from the wounds her former husband inflicted when he broke into her house on New Year’s Eve in 2018.
She has chronic pain and scars on her forehead, chest, arms, and stomach, she said. However, she refused an offer from the Crown to request a publication ban on her identity – as is standard when dealing with victims of domestic violence – in an effort to help other women in abusive relationships.
“The reason I’m coming forward is because there is always the expectation that women are supposed to be silent in domestic matters,” she said while being supported by her sister, Anita Powless.
“Let’s break the silence,” said Marina, adding many women chose not to testify in court “as their stance is like, ‘I just won’t show up and my partner will get off.’”
“It’s very difficult to leave an abusive relationship because as soon as you do, your life is in immediately in danger. When women leave, that’s usually when men will try to kill the woman,” she said.
‘A very bleak picture’
Powless, an Indigenous mother of three girls, said she was “disgusted” with the Canadian justice system, which she believes places too much emphasis on the rights of the accused.
“I feel we are failing the victims and protecting the criminals and I’m just tired of it,” she said. “I feel this is a call for our justice ministers of Canada, of the Northwest Territories.
“Why are we not pushing for more changes to protect the victims – innocent, law-abiding Canadian citizens – from violence and harm?
“No matter how much work these wonderful RCMP officers do to save people like Marina, the courts do not support real punishment for the charges that come up. Instead, they get watered down [and do not] equate to what really happened, and the lifetime of trauma Marina and the children, and the rest of us who witnessed the trauma after, have to face. It’s very, very disheartening.”
At the hearing, as Powless and a victim support worker put their arms around St Croix in the gallery, NWT Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau said the prevalence of domestic violence is a “terrible tragedy” that many women suffer in silence.
“Many who do try to break the silence … do suffer violence from doing so,” she said. “Family violence is not a private matter, is not a private problem. It is a societal problem and should be of concern to everybody in the community – not just for the victims, or the victim support groups, or just for those who work in the justice system. It should be a concern to all.”
Charbonneau pointed to a recent report on domestic violence that “paints a very bleak picture, one that should be of serious concern to politicians, citizens, courts … everyone.”
“I can certainly understand that from her perspective, the idea that a court order can protect her must ring extremely hollow, given that two different court orders were in force when this crime happened,” the judge said.
Despite being bound by two court orders at the time, 26-year-old 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.
“Mr St Croix’s conduct falls at the very high end of the spectrum of seriousness,” said the judge. “Looking at what he did – repeatedly stabbing his victim – looking at the injuries, I think it is a matter of pure luck that Mr St Croix is not facing a sentencing for homicide today.”
One year, nine months to serve
The Crown and defence had come to a joint sentencing agreement in exchange for a guilty plea. A charge of attempted murder was dropped.
Charbonneau told the court that under Canadian law she is bound to accept joint recommendations unless they are very unreasonable.
The joint recommendation to which she agreed – which the lawyers also acknowledged was on the low end — set out a five-year sentence to be followed by three years of supervised probation with conditions, including not to contact Marina or her children.
St Croix has agreed to leave the Northwest Territories and not return. He said corrections staff have agreed to drive him to the airport at the appropriate time. He has accumulated three years, two months and three weeks of remand credit, meaning he has one year, nine months and one week left to serve.
As a permanent resident of Canada, it is likely St Croix will be deported to his home country of St Lucia. 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.