Nunavut court: Anglican catechist acquitted on 30-year-old sex charge
“The gloom of history obscures truth”
After descending into what he called a 30-year-old “place of shadow and uncertainty,” Justice Robert Kilpatrick, in a written judgment released July 20, acquitted a prominent elder and church leader from Cape Dorset on a charge of sexually assaulting a family friend.
Naudla Oshoweetok, now aged about 67, faced a single charge of sexual assault related to an incident alleged to have occurred in an Iqaluit hotel room in 1985 or 1986.
But after a trial that included testimony from the accused, the complainant, and the complainant’s sister, Kilpatrick said he was left with reasonable doubt as to Oshoweetok’s guilt and had no choice but to find him not guilty.
He also discussed, at length, the difficulties that prosecutors face when attempting to prove allegations that are many years old.
“Forensic investigation does not readily illuminate time’s darker recesses. Factual certainty becomes harder to achieve as the memories of witnesses and participants slowly degrade over time,” Kilpatrick said.
Oshoweetok, an early president of the Baffin Regional Inuit Association and a delegate to the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s 1977 founding meeting in Alaska, served many years as a catechist, or lay helper, in the Anglican church.
He worked at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik as one of its original Inuit court workers and also served as a justice of the peace.
The complainant, a woman named CA, alleged Oshoweetok invited her to an Iqaluit hotel for dinner some time in 1985 or 1986 on a visit to Iqaluit, where the woman, aged 19 or 20, worked as an interpreter-translator.
At the time, Oshoweetok was a friend of CA’s father, an Anglican minister, who in earlier years was often invited to her family home for food and fellowship, Kilpatrick’s judgment said.
“They talk of old times and common acquaintances. There is nothing said or done by either CA or Mr. Oshoweetok that has sexual overtones,” the judgment said.
After dinner, Oshoweetok invited the young woman to continue the visit in his hotel room. Seeing no reason to suspect him, she agreed, the judgment said.
As for what happened next, each witness tells a different story.
The complainant said she sat at the foot of the bed. She said Oshoweetok then pushed her down gently, unbuttoned her pants, pulled them down and completed an act of sexual intercourse without her consent.
After that, CA got dressed and left right away, the judgment said.
Oshoweetok, on the other hand, said he asked the young woman if she wanted to have sex and that she said yes, the judgment said.
After they had consensual sex, she got dressed. Oshoweetok then gave her cab fare to get home.
The woman told the court she was too scared to tell anyone about what happened until about eight years after the incident, when she told her father and sister.
In 2012, she met Oshoweetok at an Anglican church building in his community to hear him make an in-person apology to her.
But Oshoweetok, who is married, had a different view of that meeting, Kilpatrick’s judgment said
He said its purpose was to give each of them a chance to apologize to each other for participating in an act of adultery.
Also in 2012, CA wrote to various Anglican bishops asking them to end the church’s association with Oshoweetok.
She also asked church officials for financial compensation.
The Anglican diocese responded by suspending Oshoweetok from his duties for three months for having committed adultery.
But they also told her that they would only compensate her if he was charged and convicted of a sex offence.
That’s when CA went to the RCMP to make a complaint about Oshoweetok, the judgment said.
When she appeared as a witness, CA’s sister, YA, told the court she heard CA state that Oshoweetok raped her multiple times and that she planned to seek financial compensation.
“The Court heard testimony from CA’s sister YA. YA describes her relationship with CA as a close and open one. YA relates that CA disclosed to her some years ago that she had been raped by Mr. Oshoweetok in Community X and that this had occurred on multiple occasions,” Kilpatrick said.
After looking at all the evidence, Kilpatrick said he had no choice but to find Oshoweetok not guilty.
But he did so only after a lengthy exploration of an earlier acquittal, dating to 2008, on a set of charges against former teacher Ed Horne.
He said the passage of time and the long delay in prosecuting the case now made it impossible to corroborate the stories told by both the accused and the complainant.
“Sometimes the delay is such that proof of an offence beyond a reasonable doubt becomes a standard that is simply unattainable in human terms. Sometimes the delay is such that the weapons necessary for an adequate defence cannot realistically be made available,” the 2008 judgment said.
He also said Oshoweetok “was not shaken” in cross-examination.
And although he also believes the complainant’s story, Kilpatrick said he had no choice but to acquit the accused.
“In the absence of any significant damage to credibility or reliability sustained through the process of examination, the Court is unable to determine with the necessary degree of legal certainty who or what to believe,” he said.
The complainant’s name may not be published or broadcast.