Iqaluit woman to serve 10 months jail for husband’s shack-fire death
Long list of mitigating factors temper manslaughter sentence
(Updated 4:25 p.m., May 31, 2013)
After looking at a long list of mitigating factors, Justice Sue Cooper ruled May 31 in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit that Eulalie Ussak, 53, of Iqaluit should serve a year in prison for causing the death of her husband, 50-year-old Kenneth MacFarlane.
“By all accounts, Ms. Ussak is a wonderful mother and grandmother,” Cooper said in her sentencing judgment. (See document embedded below.)
Because of a 60-day credit for hard time spent in detention at the Baffin Correctional Centre waiting for her case to be dealt with in court, Ussak must serve out another 10 months, followed by a two-year term of probation.
While on probation, she must keep the peace, report to a probation officer and take counseling as required.
“I’ll be fine,” Ussak told sobbing family members, some of whom hugged her before she was led away into custody.
MacFarlane died Dec. 12, 2009 in a fire that consumed a shack located behind the house in Apex that he shared with Ussak.
MacFarlane used the shack, which was furnished with a couch, desk, filing cabinet and wood-burning stove, for recreation. That included drinking and smoking, which he was not allowed to do in the house.
But Ussak hated the shack because of its association with MacFarlane’s drinking and abuse of her.
On the evening MacFarlane died, she had returned home from a six-day trip to Ottawa related to her work at the youth correctional facility in Iqaluit to find MacFarlane drinking in his shack.
That afternoon and evening, she tried to persuade him to stop drinking and join her in the house with their two daughters and two grandchildren.
Frustrated, Ussak called MacFarlane’s nephew to pick her up with her two daughters and at the same time continued to yell and argue with MacFarlane.
She poured gasoline into the entrance of his shack while MacFarlane continued to shout at her, calling her a whore, a slut and a pig. She then drove away with her nephew and two of her children.
She said she did not light the fuel, but noticed the shack on fire as the vehicle, driven by MacFarlane’s nephew, drove away.
Firefighters fought the blaze later after Ussak’s daughter called the emergency dispatch number, but by then, MacFarlane had died.
It’s still not clear what caused the gasoline to ignite — MacFarlane smoked, used a candle, and the shack was equipped with a wood stove.
At a sentencing hearing, court heard evidence that at various times MacFarlane verbally, physically and sexually abused Ussak and that she lived in fear of his temper, especially when he complained about her housekeeping.
“It is not in doubt that Mr. MacFarlane was verbally and physically abusive,” Cooper said in her judgment.
Cooper also accepted that Ussak suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, partly as a result of her dysfunctional relationship with MacFarlane.
The mitigating factors, Cooper said, include:
• Ussak’s guilty pleas to manslaughter, entered Oct. 23, 2012;
• her displays of genuine remorse;
• evidence of her previous good character and that there is a low risk that she will reoffend;
• her abusive relationship with MacFarlane;
• her difficult time in pre-trial custody at Baffin Correctional Centre, which does not have women’s quarters and where she spent 23 hours a day alone in a cell and authorities became concerned about her health because she lost 30 pounds in only 40 days;
• the losses she experienced after her arrest in 2009, including the loss of jobs and the house she owned;
• her strong family and community support.
The aggravating factors include:
• a previous statement from Ussak that she wanted to “burn that fucking shack down;
• a finding that Ussak acted purely out of anger;
• her admission that she did not immediately call for help.
At a sentencing hearing held this past April, Crown lawyers asked for a prison sentence of two years followed by probation, while defence lawyers asked for a suspended sentence with probation.