Arvaluk faces jail-time for beating former girlfriend

Defence asks for conditional sentence



The fate of former Nanulik MLA James Arvaluk hangs in the balance until the new year.

Arvaluk, Nunavut’s first education minister and a key activist in the formation of the territory, faces a potential year behind bars for beating his live-in girlfriend more than three years ago.

The Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit heard sentencing arguments for Arvaluk’s case on Nov. 24.

Arguing that Arvaluk’s past convictions and lack of remorse should demand a stiffer sentence, Crown attorney Steve White called on Justice Earl Johnson to put Arvaluk in prison for nine to 12 months, followed by two years’ probation.

The Crown suggested in light of Arvaluk’s past conviction and prison time for sexually assaulting a co-worker in 1995 in Yellowknife, in addition to how badly he beat Sophie Sangoya, his girlfriend in 2000, the judge should make an example of Arvaluk and base the sentencing on the importance of denouncing what he did, and deterring others from doing the same.

According to a CBC report, defence lawyer Peter Fuglsang argued the judge should consider a lighter sentencing because of the price Arvaluk has already paid in losing his job as education minister, and an MLA. Fuglsang proposed Arvaluk should serve a conditional sentence of one year of community service.

The case stems from a drunken evening in August, 2000, in Coral Harbour, Arvaluk’s former riding. He and his then-girlfriend, who was also described in court as his common-law wife, had two guests over for a game of cards.

Although Coral Harbour is a dry community, the group ended up drinking two 40-ounce bottles of alcohol before the night was over.

Early the next morning, Arvaluk and his girlfriend started fighting. According to court transcripts from the trial, the couple were known to fight about money issues, his young sons, and his past relationships.

Since being charged, Arvaluk has changed his version of the story several times about what caused the fight. However, the outcome remained the same: he punched his then-girlfriend several times in the head and face, hard enough that she needed 14 stitches to close her bottom lip.

Court evidence showed Arvaluk’s twin sons, who were three years old at the time, watched the beating from behind a window.

In her impact statement, Sangoya said the beating left her with permanent nerve damage in her face. Pictures presented as evidence in the trial showed her face had heavy swelling after the fight.

Shortly after being charged, Arvaluk resigned as minister of education but remained MLA for Coral Harbour and Chesterfield Inlet.

At Arvaluk’s first trial in June 2001, Justice Howard Irving found him not guilty of the charge, and characterized the fight as a consensual drunken brawl.

But Crown prosecutors successfully overturned that verdict and won a new trial, arguing that the judge made numerous errors in fact and in law.

Over two years, Arvaluk has changed his explanation for the beating three times. When arrested shortly after the incident, Arvaluk told police he hit Sangoya in the bedroom to calm her down after the night of drinking. Then at his first trial, he said he beat her in the hallway because he didn’t want her going outside in a state of undress.

At his latest trial, he described the beating as an act of self-defence. Arvaluk said she had bit him in the leg.

On June 20, Justice Earl Johnson found Arvaluk guilty as charged, and days later, Arvaluk resigned as MLA.

Arvaluk is to return to court for sentencing on Jan. 12.

He is the second Nunavut MLA to be convicted of a criminal offence since April 1, 1999.

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