Iqaluit woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in shack fire that killed husband
Lawyers to make sentence submissions Dec. 14
Eulalie Ussak, 53, an Iqaluit resident, pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the Nunavut Court of Justice Oct. 23.
In doing so, Ussak conceded that her actions contributed to the death by smoke inhalation of her husband, Ken MacFarlane, 50.
MacFarlane died Dec. 12, 2009 in a fire that Ussak helped start by pouring gasoline onto the doorway of a shack that MacFarlane often occupied, located behind their shared home.
The shack caught fire moments later.
Ussak was first charged with second-degree murder, but negotiations between Crown prosecutor Chris Punter and defense lawyer Laura Stevens led to a guilty plea on the downgraded charge of manslaughter.
A trial had been scheduled for Oct. 22, but because the out-of-court talks led to a plea resolution, a trial was not held.
Ussak looked frail and dejected in court, slouching her shoulders over a courtroom desk and unable to say more than “yes” and nod her head when Justice Sue Cooper asked her if she understood what she had pleaded to.
The incident arose from a dispute about MacFarlane’s frequent use of the shack for drinking and smoking.
MacFarlane “loved” his shack, according to an agreed statement of facts, which was read in court by co-prosecutor Leo Lane.
The 14-by-12-foot shack stood in the backyard behind house 3210 in Apex, which Ussak and MacFarlane shared. The wooden shack, which MacFarlane used as a getaway space, featured a couch, desk, filing cabinet, arcade-style video game, and a wood-burning stove.
Snowmobiles that MacFarlane worked on were scattered outside the shack, along with jerry cans full of gasoline.
No cigarettes or alcohol were allowed inside their house, so MacFarlane would often retreat to the shack to drink and smoke with guests or by himself.
The shack did not have any safety equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, and was not equipped with running water.
Often MacFarlane would drink “to the point of unconsciousness.” and sometimes relatives of MacFarlane’s had to use First Aid to revive him because of his excessive alcohol consumption.
That annoyed Ussak. She “hated” the shack, the statement of facts said.
Ussak often fought with MacFarlane about his spending too much time in the shack and not enough time in their home with her and her two teenaged children from a different marriage.
On the night in question, Ussak returned from a long and tiring work trip to Ottawa to find MacFarlane drinking in his shack once again.
MacFarlane had been drinking large amounts of vodka. Ussak wanted him to stop and this led to a fight.
“I’m going to burn that shack down. I want you to be inside the house and have some time with us instead of the shack,” Ussak said, according to a statement given by her 18-year-old daughter, Sateana Ell.
Ussak entered the shack, pleading with MacFarlane to leave, come into the house and stop drinking.
But MacFarlane stormed into their home, yelling at Ussak and her children about a mess inside the house.
After he received another bottle from a taxi driver, MacFarlane kept drinking vodka throughout the afternoon,
Fuming, Ussak called a neighbour half an hour before the fire and said, “I’m going to burn that fucking shack down.”
This was not the first time Ussak and MacFarlane had fought.
According to witnesses and RCMP reports, MacFarlane “physically and verbally abused Ms. Ussak for a period of years, particularly during the latter half of their relationship,” Lane said, reading from the statement of facts.
The two had been a couple for nine years and married nearly one year to the day before MacFarlane’s death. Prior to their marriage, they had lived common-law for eight years.
Whenever MacFarlane drank, Ussak would usually round her children up and take them out of the house.
While her two children and two grandchildren waited for MacFarlane’s nephew, Trevor Baron, to drive them away from the house on Dec. 12, 2009, Ussak had one last confrontation with MacFarlane.
Arguing loudly, Ussak poured gasoline on the doorstep of his shack, then left when Baron’s truck arrived.
But Ussak, according to the statement of facts, said she did not light a fire.
When the group drove away, two or three minutes later, Ussak’s two daughters noticed that the shack had caught fire with smoke billowing out of it.
The daughters said they should return, but Ussak, according to the statement of facts, said, “no, we should wait half an hour.”
Her daughter Sateana eventually called the Iqaluit emergency dispatch number.
Later that night, a co-worker drove Ussak back to the house, where she saw that the shack had been destroyed by fire and was surrounded with emergency vehicles.
After the RCMP arrested Ussak a few days later, she said in a voluntary statement to police that she wanted to burn the shack to stop MacFarlane from drinking and to stop him from “beating her up.”
Ussak denied lighting the fire.
According to the statement of facts, the source of the fire, following an investigation, could not be determined.
The wood stove door inside the shack had been found open at the scene, with MacFarlane’s remains lying nearby.
A medical examiner’s report found he had died from inhaling smoke and toxic gases.
A melted candle was also found on the floor. Witnesses also saw MacFarlane smoking cigarettes inside the shack that day.
Lawyers will make sentencing submissions Dec. 14.