A Canadian flag flies atop Yellowknife's courthouse. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Warning: This report contains description of a sexual assault as heard in court.
The territory’s chief justice imposed the lengthiest sentence requested by the Crown on a man who “very forcefully” raped his former girlfriend as she slept.
NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau on Thursday also lamented the “very prevalent crime” of sexual assault, which she called an “epidemic” in the NWT.
“It is extremely disheartening and discouraging to see there does not seem to be any improvement over the situation,” she said, while handing an Inuvik man a five and a half year prison term for sexual assault and forcible confinement.
“The solution is not to be found in the criminal courts, we know that much. The court can only respond after the fact – and with very limited tools, at that.
“I don’t know what the answer is – how the situation could change – but what we do know is sexual assault is a very serious and very devastating crime. It robs the victim of a lot.”
The court had earlier heard the woman was attacked by the man as she slept at her Inuvik home in April 2020. She had been at her apartment with friends when the man, on probation and ordered not to contact her after earlier assaults, showed up with wine and liquor.
She let him in and later woke to find him violently raping her. The attack only ended when she became sick and had to use the bathroom. The man then refused to let her leave or use her phone.
She pretended to drink with him until convinced he was drunk enough for her to dash for her door and escape.
The man, who is not being named to protect the woman’s identity, was found guilty after a four-day trial earlier this year in Inuvik.
The starting sentence for sexual assaults deemed serious, or major, by the courts is three years in this jurisdiction. Mitigating circumstances for an accused, such as an early guilty plea, can bring the penalty down, while aggravating factors can drive it up.
In this case, Charbonneau said she found no mitigating factors, save for the accused being an Indigenous offender.
The longstanding Gladue principle requires judges to consider the unique systemic or background factors that may have played a part in bringing an Indigenous offender before the courts and make sentencing decisions accordingly, up to and including community alternatives to incarceration.
At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Brendan Green argued for a sentence of between five and five and a half years. Defence lawyer Baljindar Rattan said in arguments on Tuesday that her client, now in his mid-50s, is Inuit and had a damaging upbringing as he was sent to a residential school in southern Canada as a child.
The lawyer asked for a term of between 36 and 42 months followed by supervised probation.
The judge noted that in this case, significant force was used in the attack, injuring the woman. She was also assaulted in her own home, in her bed, while she slept.
The man’s record includes sex crimes in the ’90s. He was already ordered to have no contact with the woman after three other recent assaults.
In the latest attack, said the judge, the man “controlled her movements” afterward, at first not letting her get dressed nor use the bathroom.
Charbonneau said sexual assaults “bring shame to victims, even though they are not to blame.” She said the emotional scars “are far less visible than the bruises and last far longer after the bruises have healed.”
The judge sent a message from the bench: “To [the victim] and to the community at large, [she] is not responsible for what happened to her. This was not her fault.”
The five and a half years imposed on the man was for the sexual assault. The crime of forcible confinement earned one year to be served concurrently, or at the same time.
The man had amassed 711 days of remand credit, meaning he has three years and seven months left to serve.
He will have to provide a DNA sample for the national databank and be on the sex offenders’ registry for 20 years. He is banned from possessing a firearm for 10 years. He cannot contact the woman for the duration of his sentence.