Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 29, 2016 - 7:00 am

Nunavut premier’s son faces sentencing this fall on sexual interference

Defence lawyer awaits Gladue report, may launch Charter challenge on mandatory minimum

JANE GEORGE
The trial of Ian Taptuna took place June 2 and June 3 at Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, shown here. (FILE PHOTO)
The trial of Ian Taptuna took place June 2 and June 3 at Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, shown here. (FILE PHOTO)

They danced, they frolicked in the shower in their bathing suits and then fell asleep cuddled up together at about 2 a.m., in the same twin bed, while watching a Smurfs movie on a portable DVD player.

But this past February, an innocent sleepover between two little girls in Iqaluit went terribly wrong.

The sleepover left one of the pre-teen girls traumatized after her friend’s uncle touched “my butt.”

A transcripts obtained by Nunatsiaq News show how the girl woke up to the smell of alcohol as the man kneeled by her.

He then stood up, exposing his penis to her.

“At first when he touched my butt I said, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he got up very quickly and then turned around and ran to his room,” the young victim testified June 2 at trial held at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

She started crying, woke her friend and ran back home in the middle of the night where she told her mother — who later called the police — what had happened.

Ian Taptuna, the 24-year-old son of Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna, was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference in connection with incidents alleged to have taken place Feb. 13. He appeared in the Nunavut Court of Justice June 3 and June 4 for a trial.

After hearing testimony from the complainant, her friend, Taptuna and Taptuna’s mother, Nunavut Justice Beverly Browne found Taptuna guilty of sexual interference under Section 151 of the Criminal Code, which applies to “every person who, for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 years.”

After Sept. 2, when the matter next comes before the court, likely by a teleconference, Taptuna will learn either then or sometime later in the fall what penalty the court will impose.

When she delivered her judgment June 3, Browne said “I do not accept his evidence. I do not believe his evidence could be true. I reject his evidence in its entirety.”

That’s according to the 119 pages of official transcripts of two days of testimony and the verdict judgment at the Nunavut Court of Justice, obtained by Nunatsiaq News.

Browne had advised members of the press, present at the judge-only trial, to “order a transcript if you want one, that will be official.”

In her judgment, Browne said she rejected Taptuna’s version of events in favour of the evidence given by the little girl.

“I looked carefully at her evidence, in terms of whether it was internally consistent, whether she was just saying something for the sake of saying something, but her evidence is quite compelling,” Browne said June 3.

“She was a strong, intelligent witness. I accept the complainant’s evidence and, as I have said already, I reject the accused’s evidence. It does not leave me with a reasonable doubt. I accept the complainant’s evidence.”

The transcripts relate how the two girls, friends, spent the night together Feb. 13, first with the accused taking care of them while his mother, Joanne, was at bingo.

Then the accused said he went to the Legion, where he consumed six beer and three mixed drinks before coming home in a taxi.

“I was feeling very tipsy but I remember most of the night,” Taptuna told the court June 2.

“And there was just a few instances while I was out that I don’t remember,” added Taptuna — who worked at the youth offenders facility in Iqaluit until the charges were laid.

Taptuna said he came home, tried unsuccessfully to phone the Snack for food and then made his bed, stripping into an old pair of red boxer shorts and a muscle shirt.

“After watching TV and on Facebook for an amount of time, I decided that I had to use the bathroom. So I got out of bed and I walked towards the bathroom,” he said.

That’s when Taptuna said he noticed that the blanket had fallen off the girls’ bed. He said he shook it off and knelt down to tuck them in.

“I was tucking the bed in and pulling the bed up to the girls to cover their upper body, it surprised me to see that (X) turned around and she said, “Hey, what are you doing?” And at that point she turns around fast enough for me to get startled. And I said, ‘Oh, shit.’ And I put the blanket down, got my body away from the bed and then stood up and I walked out of the bedroom.”

There could have been contact, Taptuna said.

“And I had only my slack underwear to use and they are not very secure in covering my area. And the front of the—on the male boxers, there is a slit in the front and mine was only held by a button. And the reason I don’t wear this pair of underwear much is because that button often comes off and it exposes my genital area,” he said.

Taptuna said his penis “could have been exposed.”

Taptuna’s lawyer, Marie-Josée Lafleur, defended her client’s version of events, saying it was consistent with Taptuna’s explanation of having gone there and that he didn’t even realize that “maybe the little button wasn’t open.”

“It’s not his good underwear because he had just done his laundry the night or the day before. He was not wearing his good underwear,” Lafleur said.

But Lafleur said in her submission that the exposure was, “enough to startle and traumatize a little girl. It’s enough to startle and traumatize anybody who is woken up in that particular fashion.”

However, Browne didn’t accept Lafleur’s description of the events as “some kind of a misunderstanding.”

“That he is tucking the girls in and he describes how he is tucking the girls in. And what I would suggest, the manner that he describes, I would say that it’s not plausible,” Browne said.

She also questioned Taptuna’s leaving the room quickly.

“Why would he leave if his intention was innocent? If he was fluffing the blanket he could have said, ‘It’s okay, have a good sleep, I’ve just put the blanket on.’ But instead he says the expletive ‘oh, shit’ and then leaves immediately.”

Browne also took into account the actions of Taptuna’s mother, who checked the kitchen after he left to make sure everything was turned off.

“And that suggests to me that he was very intoxicated because she checked to make sure that the stove was not left on.”

Taptuna’s lawyer may seek an application of Gladue principles in a pre-sentencing report.

Gladue principles, which flow from a 1999 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, are used in sentencing Aboriginal offenders.

Gladue pre-sentencing reports are supposed to take into account Aboriginal peoples’ historic and social hardships, such as the effects of poverty, suicide, residential school and dispossession.

And prior to sentencing, his lawyer may also launch a Charter challenge against the mandatory minimum sentence for sexual interference set out in section 151 the Criminal Code.

Right now, if convicted of the offence by summary conviction, an offender must serve a minimum of 90 days in jail, or one year if convicted by indictment.

Lafleur and Crown prosecutor Tracy Buffalo are expected to speak to those issues Sept. 2.

Taptuna is not the first son of a well-known Canadian figure to be in court on serious charges: Michel Chrétien, the son of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, pleaded not guilty — and was eventually acquitted — on charges he had sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman in the bedroom of his apartment in 2002.

And in 2008, Mark Lafleur, son of hockey legend Guy Lafleur, pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges, including assault, uttering threats to a minor and forcible confinement, although he was acquitted of sexual assault.

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