Landmark appeal court ruling in Nunavik assault case highlights need to protect Indigenous women from violence
Quebec Court of Appeal overturns two-year sentence in favour of better protection for Inuk woman victim
Warning: This story includes graphic details that may disturb some readers.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has overturned a two-year sentence delivered to an offender in a Nunavik domestic assault case, issuing a steeper penalty to the perpetrator in order to better protect the victim and discourage further violence.
The Sept. 25 ruling appears to be the first time a Canadian appeal court has considered new changes to federal sentencing law that prioritize deterrence in cases of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
In April 2018, L.P. attacked his common-law spouse with his fist, causing a 15-centimetre tear in her vagina. The Inuk woman lost a litre of blood and had to be medevaced to Montreal for care.
The following year, L.P. pleaded guilty to seven counts related to the 2018 attack and a previous one in 2012.
In October 2019, Quebec court judge Peggy Warolin sentenced L.P. to two years less a day of prison time, followed by three years’ probation. That sentence considered L.P.’s past as spelled out in a Gladue report, which indicated that the Inuk man had suffered from generational trauma from the impacts of assimilation policies in Canada’s North, bullying in school and had lost loved ones to suicide.
But last month, in a 2-1 ruling, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned that sentence, saying that the victim’s history and well-being should be considered too. Instead, L.P. will now serve a 44-month sentence, as originally proposed.
“Considering the respondent’s past breaches of probation and undertaking, his history of domestic violence, his lack of insight concerning his alcohol problem, and the need to protect the victim and the community, the Crown was of the view that the respondent was not a good candidate for a probation order,” wrote Justice Simon Ruel.
“The victim is very vulnerable,” Ruel wrote. “Because of the recurrent criminality and incarceration of the respondent, she is currently assuming sole responsibility for the parties’ children.
“She too, as an Inuk woman and victim, suffered from policies of community dislocation, sendentarization, forced relocation, suicides or shootings in the community.”
In the ruling, Justices Simon Ruel and Suzanne Gagné argued that Gladue factors affecting the offender must be weighed against the necessity of considering the circumstances of Indigenous women victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Dissenting Justice France Thibault argued that the victim was indeed considered in the original sentencing, and raised the risk of ignoring Gladue principles.
“It’s a significant decision,” said Adam Bond, legal counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
“As far as I can tell, it’s the first appellate-level decision balancing the Gladue principles of an offender and deterrence factors for an Indigenous woman victim.”
Bond said the majority in the ruling did a good job of balancing differing principles.
“They really soundly explained that these new criminal code provisions, with respect to denunciations of violence against Indigenous women, that they need to be really effectively weighed in sentencing. And that’s a good thing for Indigenous women,” Bond said.
“They really took that seriously and put a lot of thought to it. I think it’s a helpful guidance in how those provisions will be applied going forward.”
The appeal court decision was prompted by changes to criminal justice legislation the federal government adopted in 2019 through Bill C-75, which called on judges to consider harsher sentences in cases of violence against Indigenous women.
The legislation itself was a response to concerns and recommendations made by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which asked for stiffer penalties for those who commit violent crimes.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, which had official standing at the inquiry, told commissioners that the application of Gladue principles in Inuit Nunangat often put women victims at further risk.
“Families said that Gladue sentences give the message to Inuit men that intimate partner violence will result in no jail time or only a short time in jail and, as a result, are not a deterrent,” Pauktuutit wrote in its submission to the inquiry. “Finally, Inuit men return to their communities where they re-offend.”
The changes to federal sentencing law also acknowledged a 2019 Supreme Court decision called R. v. Barton, in which it warned against stereotyping Indigenous female victims.