Charges of brutal domestic violence and animal cruelty were stayed against a Sahtu man last week after the victim — the prosecution’s key witness — refused to take the stand.
The woman alleged she received threatening phone calls from a stranger a few months ago, warning her not to attend court. Prior to having his phone privileges reduced, the accused man had also phoned her several times from the North Slave Correctional Complex.
Cabin Radio is not naming the accused in this case — or the community he is from — in order to protect the identity of the woman.
“She was nervous about court and not sure if she wanted to proceed with the charges,” Prosecutor Morgan Fane told the court. “She’s afraid because [she and the accused] are from a small town and … if she were to go through with the charges, she would be shamed by the families involved.
“As well, she said it had been awhile, that her memory was a little foggy, and that there are things that she’s trying to forget.”
The woman had acknowledged receiving a subpoena, but was 15 minutes late for court on Thursday. Fane had been applying for an adjournment, to allow RCMP to investigate the reported phone calls, when she walked into the courtroom.
Judge Garth Malakoe said, “Mr. Fane, I don’t know if this is your client, but a woman just showed up.”
Fane looked behind him, turned back to the judge and asked, “If I might have a moment, sir. Perhaps we can just stand down briefly?”
The charges stem from an incident in early November 2020, where RCMP were sent to a residence by the woman’s cousin. When officers arrived, it is alleged the accused opened the door and invited them in.
“He said that he had grabbed a knife from [ the woman] and that she had hit her head against the wall,” Fane said of the accused man.
Officers found the woman in a bedroom, naked and bleeding from the head, hiding under a blanket.
Fane said there was also an injured puppy in the room, who looked as if it had a broken leg.
“Its ultimate fate is not known to the Crown,” he said.
The man was arrested and charged, based on previous allegations the woman had made of being physically and sexually assaulted.
Since then, the case had repeatedly been delayed as the Covid-19 pandemic forced court shutdowns.
When court resumed on Thursday, with the woman waiting in a room outside of the court, Fane said that she indicated she was not feeling well and did not want to proceed.
“Meeting with her just now … she said she was feeling guilty. She didn’t want to split people apart. That she forgave [the accused] and she misses him,” Fane said.
“I asked her again about this phone call … she said that she didn’t want to talk about that today. But that it … confirmed to her about how the community would feel if she were to continue with her accusations of sexual assaults and violence against [the accused].”
Judge Malakoe asked the sheriff’s officer to bring the woman into court.
“How are you this morning, ma’am?” the judge asked.
“I’m okay,” the woman replied in a quiet voice, the accused’s eyes set upon her from the defence table where he sat in jail-issued clothing.
“One thing that I want to make clear to the court is that I don’t want to testify,” the woman said, standing in the aisle, wearing a bright coloured parka.
The judge asked her to spend some time with the prosecutor to discuss matters and he adjourned proceedings until that afternoon.
When court resumed at 1:30pm, the woman was excused.
A visibly frustrated Fane told the court he had considered applying to use the initial statement the woman had given to RCMP from the fall of 2020. But the prosecutor stayed two counts against the man of sexual assault and forcible confinement, and one count each of assault causing bodily harm and wounding an animal.
‘Everyone knows everyone else’
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime held community forums in Yellowknife in March 2020.
Participants shared the sentiment that witnesses fear speaking up about crime because there can be a high risk of consequences in small, remote communities.
Because “everyone knows everyone else,” there are many loyalties, family ties and relationships at play, a report from the hearings states.
Participants in the hearings agreed there is also a culture of victim blaming, and a lack of accessible supports for victims in the North compounds these issues.
The accused in this case had earlier pleaded guilty to breaking and entering with intent and uttering threats to kill, both in relation to his efforts to track down the woman before his bail was ultimately revoked in December 2020.
In exchange for the guilty plea, the Crown had agreed to drop five counts of breaking court orders and two additional counts of uttering threats.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran told the court his client had attended residential school in Inuvik, but left after Grade 6 and obtained no further education or training. He described the man as an “on-and-off” alcoholic who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and relies on public housing.
“When he’s not taking his medication … [he has] delusions and he sees things,” Bran said, noting the man does best when he is out on the land, hunting and fishing.
Sentenced to 10 months
Considering his criminal record which includes convictions for violence and weapons offences, Judge Malakoe sentenced the man to a total of 10 months, followed by 18 months of probation. The man is prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years and he will have to provide a DNA sample for the national databank.
He is to take counselling as directed, specifically for anger management and substance abuse. He is also prohibited from contacting or communicating with the woman, and her friend who was threatened.
The man had spent 14 months in pre-trial custody, so was immediately released.
“It appears that he’s able to stay out of trouble when he’s taking his medication, and he’s not drinking,” the judge said. “Good luck to you.”