An NWT judge accused Canada’s public prosecutor of violating a woman’s legal rights after failing to consult with her about her domestic violence case.
Territorial Court Judge Donovan Molloy also rejected what he considered an inappropriate sentence for Joseph Robert Martel, 33, of Yellowknife. Martel had been convicted after trial of a second assault on his partner while on probation for the first.
The victim of those assaults “received absolutely no consultation or information in advance of the hearing about what was going to happen in court,” said Molloy, describing that as a violation of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
Turning to the woman in the public gallery, Molloy said: “I appreciate the courage it takes to come forward and make a complaint … despite the way that you have been treated at some points during this prosecution.”
In January, on day one of a two-day sentencing hearing, Molloy had asked Crown prosecutor Sonya Sehgal if the woman supported what he felt was a low sentence for Martel – one day in jail, followed by 18 months’ probation.
“I can’t say whether she is supportive of the submissions,” said Sehgal.
“So you did not even discuss it with her?” Molloy asked.
“I did not discuss the sentence with her, no.”
“Really? Is that your personal practice or the practice of the PPSC? So she heard that for the first time when it came out of your mouth in front of me?”
“The Crown witness coordinator may have discussed it with her. I personally did not.”
The woman, sitting in the gallery, shook her head from side to side according to a transcript of the hearing.
Crown ‘had communicated’ with woman
When court resumed after a break in proceedings, the judge was incredulous on discovering the prosecutor had still not spoken to the victim.
“So you still have not spoken to her?” he said. “Certainly I would expect, when the judge points out that the complainant is back there shaking her head, obviously, she is upset about something.
“Do you think she has no voice? She is just an afterthought?”
The prosecutor replied: “No, I do not think that, your honour.”
Section 14 of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights states in part: “Every victim has the right to convey their views about decisions to be made … in the criminal justice system … and to have those views considered.”
Chief federal prosecutor Alex Godfrey this week told Cabin Radio the Public Prosecution Service of Canada had “communicated” with the victim as the case progressed since August 2020.
“In this case, there were a substantial number of communications between the PPSC and the victim during the lifespan of the prosecution through the lawyers involved and the Crown witness co-ordinators who work within our office,” stated Godfrey in an emailed response.
“The PPSC strives to provide victims with support, explain the court process, and seek input from victims when appropriate.”
Godfrey did not specifically respond to Cabin Radio’s inquiry regarding allegations of a Victims Bill of Rights violation, nor say whether action had been taken to address the concerns of the judge or woman.
Martel had been convicted of assaulting his former partner on August 1, 2020, five months after he was sentenced for the same crime – and while he was under a probation order to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
“Under the pretence of wanting to see his daughter, he went to [the victim]’s home and … the very first thing he did was to … forcibly take [the victim]’s phone and computer from her, using not an inconsequential level of force,” said the judge.
In her victim impact statement, which Sehgal had earlier read in court, the woman said she had been receiving counselling since the assault.
“I shut myself off to all my friends and family because I was too embarrassed to tell people what I was constantly going through,” the statement read in part.
“Even though I took away his keys to my apartment, I still felt very uneasy.”
Molloy sentenced Martel to a total of 45 days – to be served in the community, under house arrest – followed by 18 months of supervised probation.
The judge said that sentence was appropriate “because of the mitigating circumstances, because he has employment, [and] the court – particularly in the case of Indigenous offenders – is obliged to consider circumstances or options other than actual imprisonment.”
Martel must report to a supervisor and not leave the NWT without permission, abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol or non-prescriptions drugs, take counselling, not possess a weapon, not leave his house or its yard except for a medical emergency or attend church services, and may leave on one afternoon each week to attend to personal matters.
He shall have no contact or communication with the woman “except for contact through a mutually acceptable third party, solely for the purpose of arranging access to your child,” said Molloy.
Martel will have to provide a DNA sample to the national databank and be prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years, but can apply for a sustenance exemption.