Nunavut mom’s child abuse must be denounced, appeal court rules

Underfed boy, aged five, suffered bites, bruises, injuries to internal organs

The Nunavut Court of Appeal has ruled that principles of denunciation and deterrence demand that a Nunavut woman who badly abused her child must receive a jail sentence. But they decided also to stay the sentence. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

Warning: This story contains details that may disturb many readers.

In a case that exposes the heartrending reality of child abuse in the territory, the Nunavut of Court of Appeal has ruled that a woman who inflicted horrific injuries on her five-year-old boy last year must get a jail sentence of two years less a day.

But she won’t actually serve any time.

That’s because, with “considerable reluctance,” the appeal court agreed, due to exceptional circumstances, to “stay” the new jail sentence that they imposed.

That means the woman will be allowed to remain at home to care for her other child, a four-year-old girl.

Courts of appeal in Canada are allowed to “stay” new jail sentences if the accused person has been out of custody for a lengthy period, or has complied with the conditions of a non-jail sentence.

The Crown had launched an appeal against a sentence that Justice Susan Charlesworth imposed on Katelynn Amaaq of Igloolik on Dec. 12, 2019.

Amaaq had beaten and starved her five-year-old son over a period of about 10 weeks, leading to convictions for aggravated assault and failure to provide the necessities of life to a child.

The mother’s abuse of the boy, who now lives with his grandmother, led to horrendous injuries.

“The five-year old’s body was covered in bruises and bite marks. He suffered severe internal injuries—a lacerated liver and spleen, a kidney contusion, a fractured rib and an obstructed bowel,” the appeal court judgment said.

“The youngster told the examining nurse he could not recall the last time he ate. The child’s height and weight was in the fifteenth percentile for his age.”

(“Fifteenth percentile” means 85 per cent of children of the same age would be taller and heavier.)

The woman had been convicted of assaulting the same child once before, in 2012, when he was a two-month-old baby.

“She threw her baby down a flight of stairs, the baby landed on his head, and broke his clavicle,” the appeal court judgment said.

For the 2012 incident, she was convicted of assault causing bodily harm and received a four-month conditional sentence and 18 months of probation.

At the December 2019 sentencing on the second set of charges, Charlesworth imposed a conditional sentence of two years less a day for failure to provide the necessities of life and a consecutive suspended sentence of three years for aggravated assault.

The Crown then appealed Charleworth’s decision, asking the appeal court to reverse the three-year suspended sentence for assault and to replace it with a two-years-less-a-day jail sentence.

The appeal court agreed with the Crown and threw out the suspended sentence, replacing it with the jail sentence the Crown had asked for.

In doing so, they recognized Charleworth had applied Gladue principles to the sentence, but they found that she didn’t give enough consideration to denunciation and deterrence.

“In our opinion, the [suspended] sentence for aggravated assault is demonstrably unfit,” they said in their ruling.

But after imposing their two-years-less-a-day jail term, the three appeal court judges agreed to stay the sentence after Crown and defence lawyers asked them to do so.

That’s because Amaaq is the sole caregiver for her other child, a four-year-old girl who is doing well and is now enrolled in a Head Start program.

“We were told that the offender has shown no signs that she is a danger to this child or the community,” the judgement said.

And in an affidavit, the mother said she feared that if she went to jail, her child would end up in foster care and be neglected.

Both Crown and defence lawyer agreed with that.

“The Crown and the respondent asked us to stay any custodial sentence we might impose to allow the offender to discharge her parental obligations to her four-year-old daughter,” the judgment said.

The appeal court did stay the jail sentence, with reluctance, only because lawyers on both sides had asked for it, with the Crown lawyer pointing out the “bleak future” that foster children in Nunavut face.

R v. Amaaq, 2020 NUCA 11 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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