Nunavut judge acquits battered woman who killed her husband

“This case reveals many truths that will come as no surprise to Nunavummiut,” judge says

A Gjoa Haven woman who killed her husband acted in self-defence and is therefore not guilty, a Nunavut judge has ruled. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

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.

R. v. Ameralik, 2021 NUCJ 3 by NunatsiaqNews

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Only in Nunavut on

    No one condones spousal violence and the justice system failed this woman. But the record is clear that she physically attacked the man in response to insults before later stabbing him. That isn’t acceptable. Unfortunately sympathy for six children seems to be Charlesworths chief concern.
    Why does the article not explain the Crown’s theory of the case? They no doubt felt there was a prospect of conviction on the charges and pursued them. Why not outline all perspectives?

    • Posted by Paradigm Shift on

      Interesting take. I agree that the situation should have been presented more fully. That would be informative and helpful.

      On the other hand, to expect a person to act with stoic restraint within a longstanding cycle of abuse and violence is a completely unrealistic and detached from reality.

    • Posted by Self defence on

      Self defence is the reason for the decision. You can read the court decision if you want more details; the link was provided.

  2. Posted by Good for her on

    So many women are walking around bruised up, used as punching bags. I say good for her for getting off. Finally a judge that did the right thing.

  3. Posted by Can not believe it on

    Response to “only in Nunavut”
    You must be an abuser yourself for saying those things.

    • Posted by Only In Nunavut on

      How about Attack what I wrote instead of making personal attacks?
      I mean, only an abusive man could possibly ask a public newspaper to explain why the prosecution proceeded and felt like the evidence equaled murder VS manslaughter right? They covered the trial, not me.
      No, for people like you it’s very simple: if there is any history of domestic abuse and a woman kills a man, after attacking him, there is no need for any trials at all. No logic here folks.

  4. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Another woman who just couldn’t take anymore lashing back at her abuser. Decisions in two similar cases in the last couple of weeks. Even women who are much smaller than their abusers can find a way to strike back and sometimes with fatal results. It is unfortunate someone died but abusers everywhere should heed the message and learn the lesson that if you abuse someone enough one day that hand will find the strength to turn the violence back on to you.

    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      I agree with you, Crystal, as I often do. I would only add that the abusers are unable to heed warnings as they don’t have control of themselves either. A tragical situation on many levels.

  5. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    I, in no way, condone what this abuser did to his wife and he deserved what he got.

    And ladies I am in no way blaming you for what you must suffer.

    But, let this be a reminder, that ladies (and children), you have a right to come forward the first time it happens and regardless what he says it is BS. It will happen again and again.

    And for the community politicians, the leaders and yes other family members and neighbours. You each have a responsibility in this. YOU know this is happening. YOU must step forward and stop this. YOU are responsible for protecting her and her children. Sometimes the victims need to be told what to do.

    • Posted by Self defence on

      Abused people (mostly women and children) need safe places to go, places where they are treated with understanding and support, and not judgment or people telling them what to do (except kids; they need the direction). It is typical for abused people to go back over and over to their abusers; that is part of the pattern of abusive relationships; they need support so they can understand they have to leave for them and their kids, that they are worthy and should be treated well, that they are not the ones who are the cause of the violence toward them; I am not sure being told to leave works; maybe it does sometimes, maybe when they or their kids are close to death at the hand of the abuser. Abusers need to consistently hear in society that their behaviour is unacceptable and they need treatment for their alcoholism and underlying or related mental health problems.

    • Posted by Tulugaq on

      She did come forward for prior assaults but on the last incidents she didn’t go to court she was too afraid not only of the offender but also of the court system. This is happening quite often and shows how the system is dysfunctional.

    • Posted by Xenia Osetsky on

      I have been the abused woman, so I speak from experience. Unless you have been there, please do not assume you have an answer. I loved him because of all the reasons a person loves their spouse and the first time he hit me I believed him that he was sorry and that he wouldn’t do it again and all the other promises. He broke them regularly and I kept believing, because I loved him, and now we have kids to raise. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t happen every day, there are days, weeks, even months when everything is great. Then is the day he drank too much, I said please when I should have said thank you, and the war is on. There’s no preparing for this, there’s just survival. So I put straps on the bed and planned to tie him down one night when he was passed out and then beat him with a cast iron frying pan so he could experience what it’s like. Thank God I never did because if I had you would have read about me sometime back in the ’80s before I found another way out. It’s not an easy thing to walk away from a relationship, and it isn’t that bad in the beginning, the problems escalate over time, so what was livable in the beginning becomes intolerable over time. As I said at the beginning, please do not judge the women who try to make life with an abuser work until you have been there yourself. The women who survive are to be congratulated and cared for rather than reviled for “allowing” the abuse. We suffer from PTSD as a result of our experiences and are seldom treated for the results of the abuse we suffered. I have been encouraged to “get over it” and I would really like to know how, exactly, am I supposed to do this? The scars don’t show, I look like a “normal” person, the scars don’t show. I have problems with trust, especially around men, also with relationships in general. I live alone, I would love to be in a stable relationship with a partner I can trust and play with. I am not holding my breath.

  6. Posted by WONDERING ?…. on

    Some very good comments here !
    A young women driven to desperate act by fear and frustration !
    This young women had been ignored for many years, when people ignore a storm do not
    be surprised when there is a thunder bolt.
    Why on earth do we keep supporting groups like MMIWG, PAUKTUTIT, NTI, whose only
    agenda has been for themselves and there own pay checks ?
    The Inuit people can be very strong within themselves, without the free loaders we are
    cursed with.

  7. Posted by Jennifer Wraight on

    I have not lived in Gjoa Haven in many years, but even now I remember the impossible position a women was in, in the community who was being abused by her partner, and she had nowhere to go. What I don’t understand is….it would have been impossible to hide the abuse, at least some of their friends and family must have known what was going on. While I know you can’t control what someone else does, didn’t his family hold him responsible, tell him they were ashamed of him, etc. Or did they just keep pardoning him? Any many I know who was abusvie like that, would be 100% shunned by everyone he knew

  8. Posted by WHAT THE HELL on

    In my book she should have acted much sooner that after 10 years of abuse. Her life must have been hell. I would say to such a guy:” if you are going to hit me, don’t miss because I sure as hell won’t miss in return. She is now free of him and free to pursue her life as she likes, but unfortunately much permanent psychological damage has been done that might never be fixable. Stay strong…

  9. Posted by Tulugaq on

    This situation occurs quite regularly but lawyers and judges often disregard the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Lavallee [1990] 1 SCR 852 about the battered woman syndrome. But the issue is much broader: it’s the fact that the Canadian legal system cannot protect women from abusive men, in particular in Indigenous communities.

    After an assault, it takes months before the case will go to court and the spouses are likely to have to live together, in particular in small communities where there are no facilities for battered women and children. Families have strong ties and separation is not always an option. Once the case goes before the court, the victim must testify before the whole community and it’s extremely intimidating. She is often vigorously cross examined because the accused has the benefit of the doubt and it can reopen the wounds. And the accused has chances to be acquitted of the charge against him and the victim is often left hanging.

    With such a dysfunctional system, the victim is left with little protection and we get this kind of results where she is pushed to the limits and can see no way out of the abuse but to wound and kill the abuser. The communities should have the tools to intervene before and see if there is a way to resolve the issue quickly before it escalates. The court system is only reactive and frankly it’s hopeless to deal with such issues, much of the time too late.

    • Posted by Bob Mather on

      it takes two to tango but sometimes there is no other way to survive police and courts are not present 24/7 to protect and serve the community

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