Igloolik man jailed 12 years for 30-year reign of abuse

A 62-year-old Igloolik elder who terrorized his victims for 30 years will serve one of the harshest sentences ever imposed on a sexual abuser in the NWT.



Nunatsiaq News

Editor’s note: The following story contains details that may be disturbing for some readers.

IQALUIT – Intoxicated and quarrelsome after a night out drinking, Ham Qaunaq loaded his 30-30 lever-action rifle and squeezed off two rounds into the wall of his house.

A taxi driver who drove him home that evening had pulled Qaunaq’s wife Lydia out of the house moments earlier, fearing that the lifelong hunter would shoot her.

Upstairs, one of the couple’s teenage boys hid in terror as the shots rang out. It was the last bullet that Ham Qaunaq would fire for a very long time.

In the days that followed Qaunaq’s arrest in April, 1996 by members of the RCMP detachment in Igloolik, other witnesses came forward with alarming new allegations.

As authorities widened the scope of their investigation, a tragic tale of habitual sexual and emotional abuse began to unfold.

Three decades of abuse

Last week in an Igloolik courtroom, Qaunaq, a 62-year-old grandfather, was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison for committing incest, rape and assault over a period of three decades.

So ended a reign of terror that had poisoned the lives of five close family members, whose riveting testimony at times moved members of the court to tears.

Though originally charged with 31 separate violations, the court accepted Qaunaq’s decision to plead guilty to ten of the charges – including a count of assault against his wife dating to the late 1950s – and dropped the remaining charges.

In handing down the sentence, Justice John Vertes noted that Qaunaq, though a distinguished hunter and a good provider, had failed both as a father and a husband.

His abusive and violent behavior created an atmosphere that instilled a sense of fear and shame in his victims throughout their formative years, Vertes said.

Were it not for the fact Qaunaq has already spent the last year-and-a-half in remand, his crimes would have warranted a jail term of 15 years, Vertes told the court.

Life-long firearms ban

Qaunaq is further banned for life from using or possessing a firearm, except for hunting and only with the permission of local police, who are otherwise to keep his guns in their custody.

“It is a significant sentence,” crown prosecutor Diane Sylvain, a six-year veteran of the courts in Canada’s North, commented afterwards.

“It is one of the highest that I know of.”

The final sentence was close to what the prosecution had requested, a prison term of 12-to-15 years. Defence lawyer Susan Cooper had asked for a lighter penalty of eight to 10 years.

In a preliminary inquiry held at Iqaluit in October, Qaunaq’s female victims described a pattern of frequent sexual abuse punctuated by death threats, booze and fits of violent temper.

One of Qaunaq’s victims was just 11 years old when he began to have sexual intercourse with her, beginning in 1969. The abuse lasted for six years, until the victim married and moved away.

Another victim, who Qaunaq abused right up until 1992, was just 12 when he began to have intercourse with her in 1978. The same complainant also testified that her own mother accused her of lying when, on one occasion as a teenager, she attempted to alert her to Qaunaq’s behavior.

Still another witness testified how, after spurning Qaunaq’s sexual advances as an 11-year-old, she began sleeping with a knife under her pillow for protection.

By age 13, she had learned to sleep with her eyes open – something she was still doing right up until Qaunaq was taken into custody.

“Derelict and depraved actions”

Although alcohol evidently fueled Qaunaq’s rage, booze could not excuse his derelict and depraved actions, Vertes said. No sooner had the hunter started his family in the 1950s did he show his propensity for impulsive violence.

In 1958, while the couple were still living on the land, Lydia Qaunaq testified that she was beaten by her husband with the blunt end of a meat cleaver and ordered to cook something on the fire.

Qaunaq pleaded guilty last week to assault causing bodily harm.

Three of Qaunaq’s sexual abuse victims delivered impact statements to the court prior to sentencing.

Given that Qaunaq is a unilingual Inuktitut speaker, Justice Vertes recommended that he serve his time in a northern correctional facility.

He has been held in remand at the Baffin Regional Correctional Centre in Iqaluit since his arrest.

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