Nunavut man guilty of murdering mother’s companion in Ottawa

Victim stabbed in his own bedroom at Vanier residence


Postmedia News

A subdued clash of cultures was on display in an Ottawa courtroom Sept. 28, when a young Nunavut man admitted to the brutal stabbing of his mother’s companion during an alcoholic rage.

Standing in the docket, reading quietly from a single, crumpled sheet of paper, Jamesie Kownirk, a slight 27-year-old from Iqaluit, told court he was “truly sorry” that he had killed another man. “I know I’ve caused a lot of pain with my actions.”

Jean-Denis Mitrow, 52, was found dead in a basement apartment on Jolliet Avenue in Vanier in mid-January 2010 after being stabbed multiple times.

After Kownirk admitted to the killing, Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynn Ratushny pronounced him guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment with no possibility of being eligible for parole for at least 10 years.

Kownirk was visiting Ottawa in January 2010 during a break from his job on an east coast fishing boat.

He had been on a drinking binge with some of his boat mates when, late on the night of Jan. 13, they dropped him off at Mitrow’s Jolliett Avenue apartment, where his mother, Martha Kownirk, sometimes lived.

A drinking party ensued, with loud music and shouting, according to neighbours, who, at one point, called police.

According to court documents, officers came to the apartment at about 3 a.m. on Jan. 14 in response to the complaints and found Mitrow and the Kownirks to be “intoxicated.”

Mitrow told officers everything was fine and said of Kownirk: “He’s good, he is her son.”

However, the situation deteriorated after police left. Kownirk became angry and aggressive toward his mother. She would later tell police that her son was “angry about his childhood as well as the fact that his mother and birth father had separated.”

Mitrow tried to calm things down before giving up and going to bed. Kownirk then went to the kitchen, picked up a knife and followed Mitrow into his bedroom.

“Moments later, while [Kownirk] and Mr. Mitrow were still in the bedroom, Ms. Kownirk heard something fall,” according to a statement of facts agreed on by assistant Crown attorney Mike Boyce and defence lawyer Douglas Baum.

“According to Ms. Kownirk, [her son] then appeared from the bedroom holding a knife with blood on it. His blue jeans were covered in blood. He stated, ‘I killed Denis.’ Ms. Kownirk looked inside the bedroom and saw Mr. Mitrow lying face down on the floor with what she described as a ‘stab wound in the back.’ ”

That description was an understatement, to say the least.

Coroner Jacqueline Parai, who conducted the post-mortem examination on Mitrow’s body, found “multiple sharp force injuries,” including wounds to the face, scalp, neck, hands and back.

One stab wound on the left side of the neck perforated the left jugular vein and cut across the left carotid artery, causing “extensive” bleeding. “Death,” she said, “is attributed to both stab wounds to the left side of the neck.”

More than a dozen members of Mitrow’s family, including brothers, sisters and children, attended Wednesday’s court session.

Their victim impact statements were read into the record. Collectively, they painted a portrait of a much-loved son, father, brother and grandfather known for his generosity and willingness to help others, including, as in the case of Martha Kownirk, providing shelter when needed.

“My brother was a giving human being, always helping others and fixing things for others,” sister Gisèle Mitrow said. “This is what took his life: his generosity.”

“He was man with a big heart and it cost him his life,” said Thérèse Mitrow, another sister. “This killer destroyed so many more lives than he can ever imagine.”

Mitrow’s eldest son, Stéphane Mitrow, said the “horror” of his father’s death continued to give him nightmares. It even affected the way he regarded aboriginals, he claimed, explaining that, when he thought of his father’s death, he couldn’t help but feel “angry and hostile” toward aboriginal people.

“I was devastated that he was abandoned to die so mercilessly. It is a grievous loss to have such feelings against a culture I once admired.”

Kownirk’s lawyer, Baum, said his client was also a victim, having grown up subject to the “pathologies of the North.”

Kownirk’s history of violence went hand in hand with alcohol abuse. When sober he is a quiet young man, and, now, “deeply ashamed” of what he has done, Baum said, adding Kownirk had forgone a trial that would have forced Mitrow’s family to relive the ordeal of his death.

Kownirk had maintained he was too drunk to remember his attack on Mitrow.

However, as the judge explained to the court, Kownirk effectively entered what she called a “functional plea of guilty to second-degree murder” when he accepted and admitted to the evidence against him: everything from forensic results and police evidence to witness statements, including his mother’s testimony.

Ratushny thanked the young man for his willingness to “do the right thing.”

She also expressed the hope that he might still make something of his life and, perhaps, “influence” other members of his community about the hazards of alcohol abuse.

To that point in the hour-long hearing, Kownirk had sat quietly with his head bowed, staring at the floor, showing no emotion on his face. However, as he was led from the courtroom, hobbled by the chain around his ankles, tearful members of his family from Nunavut, including his mother, called out to him in Inuktitut and he started sobbing.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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