Nunavut judge acquits battered woman who killed her husband
“This case reveals many truths that will come as no surprise to Nunavummiut,” judge says
Warning: Descriptions of violence in this story might upset some readers.
A Gjoa Haven woman who killed her husband after he beat and intimidated her during their 10-year relationship is not guilty of committing a homicide, Judge Susan Charlesworth said in a written decision issued Wednesday.
Sandra Ameralik acted in self-defence to protect herself and her unborn child, which means the killing was a justifiable homicide, Charlesworth ruled.
“This case reveals many truths that will come as no surprise to Nunavummiut, among them that the problem of intimate partner violence continues to plague Nunavut communities,” Charlesworth said.
Ameralik plunged a 12-inch knife into the chest of her husband, Howie Aaluk, on June 25, 2017, puncturing his heart and lung.
Ameralik, who was 29 at the time, stands only 5-1 tall, and at the time of the killing she was carrying the couple’s sixth child.
Aaluk weighed 313 pounds and stood 6-3, according to a pathologist who examined his body.
That size difference and the many years of abuse he inflicted on his wife played a big role in Charlesworth’s decision to acquit the woman.
So did a review of case law on battered-spouse syndrome.
Charlesworth made a point of saying the case once again exposes the damage caused by intimate partner violence in Nunavut.
Earlier in her relationship with Aaluk, Ameralik never received the help she needed from the justice system that could have protected her from the violence her husband inflicted on her for years, the judge said.
So, after reviewing evidence given at a trial held last October in Gjoa Haven, Charlesworth found Ameralik not guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of manslaughter.
The judge found Ameralik, who testifed in her own defence, intended to stab her husband in the arm and did not intend to kill him. That lack of intent means she is not guilty of second-degree murder.
And on the lesser but included charge of manslaughter, Charlesworth found that Ameralik was attempting to defend herself. That means she is not guilty of manslaughter.
In doing that, Charlesworth accepted a theory put forward by defence lawyers Alison Crowe and Sally Paddock.
They argued Ameralik suffered a long history of abuse at Aaluk’s hands and had “a subjective fear of [him] and the threat he was posing to her and her unborn child at the time of the incident.”
That fear left her with no choice but to defend herself.
“Given the abuse so frequently experienced by vulnerable Inuit, this court must give such arguments serious consideration,” Charlesworth said.
Trial evidence included seven RCMP occurrence reports over the seven years leading up to Aaluk’s death.
The first police report, from 2010, said Aaluk likely punched Ameralik while she was carrying a two-year-old child in an amauti, a parka that allows a child to nestle against the mother’s neck. Aaluk was charged, but the charge was dismissed in court.
The second incident occurred in 2012, when police charged Aaluk with assaulting his wife and one of his children.
“Ms. Ameralik woke up at the health centre with a fractured cheekbone, some teeth knocked out and her face bruised,” Charlesworth said.
But Ameralik did not want to attend court when that case came to trial, so the charges were withdrawn.
Charlesworth looked at five more police reports that describe Aaluk attacking his wife. much of the violence was fueled by alcohol and disputes over the couple’s children, the reports said.
After nearly all of those incidents, Aaluk talked his wife out of testifying against him.
But Aaluk abused her frequently, several times a month, hitting her on her back or on her legs, so people could not see her bruises and once punched her in the stomach when she was pregnant.
On the day she killed her husband, Ameralik was in the kitchen making a pizza for six children who were in the house.
For some reason, her husband came into the kitchen and started calling her a “bitch” and a “dog,” so she became frustrated with him and punched him three times in the head.
Soon after that, he came back to the kitchen yelling that she should “just… stab” him.
Ameralik told court she was afraid her husband would hurt her and her baby.
“Given her vulnerability, recognizing how physically outmatched she was, I am satisfied Ms. Ameralik’s use of force was not out of proportion to the threat of violence she was experiencing at the time of the incident,” Charlesworth said.
She concluded her judgment by pointing out that Aaluk’s death is a tragedy that could have been prevented.
“The system must change to ensure, going forward, that victims of intimate partner violence are afforded the support necessary to provide evidence against the people who are causing them harm,” Charlesworth said.