Nunavut court: killer of 57-year-old woman gets 12 years for manslaughter
“This is the face of violent crime in Nunavut”
An Iqaluit man convicted of manslaughter has received the legal equivalent of a 12-year sentence for a sexual assault in 2008 that led to the death of a Pond Inlet woman about two years later.
“This is the face of violent crime in Nunavut. It is often as irrational, as it is devastating, to those who are exposed to it,” Justice Robert Kilpatrick said in a judgment issued Nov. 15.
On Sept. 8, 2008, Jimmy Nowdlak, 29, dragged the 57-year-old woman down a hillside behind Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, where he sexually assaulted her.
The woman, who was in Iqaluit on a medical trip, had left the patient boarding home, then located near the high school, to visit her sister.
Nowdlak pleaded guilty to manslaughter Nov. 1 at the Nunavut Court of Justice.
Nowdlak had already spent three and a half years at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, waiting for the charge to be dealt with in court.
For this, in his sentencing judgment, Kilpatrick gave Nowdlak a credit of two-to-one, meaning his three-and-a-half year pre-trial detention period is the equivalent of seven years in jail.
Kilpatrick said the “truth in sentencing” amendments to the Criminal Code — introduced by the Conservative government in 2009 and put into effect in February 2010 — do not apply to Nowdlak’s offence, which occurred in 2008.
“These substantive changes to the law cannot be applied retroactively,” Kilpatrick said
Those amendments restrict the power of judges to grant two-for-one credit on time served in jail prior to a conviction, but Kilpatrick said it is the longstanding practice of the Nunavut court to give two-for-one credit for pre-trial detention.
Kilpatrick’s sentence means Nowdlak will now serve another five years in a federal prison and will finish his sentence in 2017.
“The sentence that this court imposes today is not a reflection upon the value of the life that has been lost or the value of the human life generally,” Kilpatrick said.
“The court understands that from the perspective of a grieving family member, no sentence, no amount of gaol, can possibly equal what has been taken or replace what has been lost,” he said.
Kilpatrick commended Nowdlak for seeking help in jail for his alcoholism and sexual offending.
And he waived a “victim fine surcharge, citing “reasons of hardship.”
The judgment also placed a lifelong prohibition against owning firearms on Nowdlak, who will remain on the sex offender registry for life.
“Given the type and degree of force applied by the accused to the face of the complainant, the court infers that this accused intended to cause the complainant serious bodily harm when he struck her as he did,” Kilpatrick said.
“Mr. Nowdlak was angry on the night of Sept. 8. He had told a friend that he wanted to beat someone up. [The woman] was unlucky enough to be present when Mr. Nowdlak exploded,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick also rejected the idea that Nowdlak had been too drunk to carry out the offense, saying the attack “would have taken some coordination and physical dexterity, particularly if the complainant was conscious.”
Nowdlak also ran away from the scene, which led Kilpatrick to believe his impairment did not prevent him from “understanding that he was committing a serious crime.”
That’s because Nowdlak pulled his pants up and ran away after a passerby scared him off.
During the assault, Nowdlak, who claimed to been heavily intoxicated that night, broke the woman’s jaw in two places, broke her cheekbone and severely damaged the surface of her brain.
Two years later, in August 2010, the woman died in an Ottawa hospital from lung infections associated with the injuries she suffered in 2008.
The deceased woman left three children, and her death has “profoundly diminished” their lives.
In a victim impact statement, one of the family members spelled out the “awful emotional consequences” of the woman’s death, which include a drinking problem.
“Inconsolable grief and self-blame now fuels an alcohol problem that threatens to engulf other family members in an outwardly expanding wave of human misery,” Kilpatrick said.
The attack also brought fear to Iqaluit, spawning the creation of a public safety committee after the attack.
Nowdlak has a long criminal record, Kilpatrick said. He has 16 entries spanning from Youth Justice Court entered between 1996 and 2000, and another 16 in the adult court from 2001 to 2009.
Most of these offenses were property crimes and two involved assaults against other males.
Nowdlak has no prior history of sexual offenses, Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick said Nowdlak has a Grade 10 education, but functions well below that purported grade level.
“Mr. Nowdlak is the product of an education system in Nunavut that allows for the “social promotion” of students who are performing below grade level standards,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick said he took into account that Nowdlak pleaded guilty and spared the family of his victim from the stress of a trial.
As is required by law, Kilpatrick also took into account Nowdlak’s circumstances as an aboriginal person:
“In the space of less than three generations, the Inuit have moved from a nomadic hunting life on the land to a life in the settlements. The traditional values of Inuit society are under siege. Language is threatened. Many Inuit long for the benefits they see on TV,” Kilpatrick said.
“They are held back by chronic poverty and a lack of opportunity for advancement. Employment is scarce, and the promise held out by education rings hollow.
“Many young adults in Nunavut are no longer comfortable living a traditional lifestyle on the land. Some have turned to substance abuse to ease their boredom. A growing number take their lives out of desperation – they see no way out.
“Alcohol or drug dependence brings with it an economic need to finance the addiction. Some citizens are tempted to turn to property related crime in order to finance their continued addiction.
“Jimmy Nowdlak is likely one of these.”