Sentencing in the case of a Quebec woman who pleaded guilty to one charge of manslaughter in 2015 has been delayed until September. On Thursday morning, Jessie Siasi Quannaaluk, 58, appeared in Quebec Superior Court, following several previous delays of sentencing from April to late June of this year.
Quannaaluk has been in custody since February 18, 2015, when her former boyfriend was found stabbed repeatedly in the chest. Paul Brown, 57, was known to police for various offences ranging from drug convictions to sexual assault charges involving minors under 14.
Representing the Crown was prosecutor Jasmine Guillaume, who has been on this case since late 2016. At the defence table was Julien Archambault, who has represented Quannaaluk since the day of her arrest. Short in stature, wearing a drab tan jacket, and looking ahead at a point on the floor, Quannaaluk initially stood in the prisoner’s box, flanked by two female guards. Judge Marc David invited her to join her attorney as witnesses began their testimony.
“It is important that you understand everything that is being said here today,” the judge told Quannaaluk as she was led to a seat next to Archambault. “If you do not, just raise your hand.”
Quannaaluk nodded in acknowledgement.
First to testify was social worker Véronique Ducharme. David stated that he would like Ducharme to be a central coordinator for any probation order, should that be his decision. He mentioned to Ducharme that with a history of alcohol and drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as having been abused, Quannaaluk will need the right care to succeed.
Quannaaluk is from the northern Inuit village of Ivujivik, population 370, on the western edge of Arctic Quebec. She came to Montreal in 2005, and for most of the ten years leading up to her arrest, spent time at Chez Doris, a day shelter for women.
Brown and Quannaaluk had been in a relationship but had recently broken it off, according to Postmedia. “She was in an abusive relationship,” Marina Boulos-Winton told the National Post on February 24, 2015. Boulos-Winton, acting director of the shelter, told the Post that Quannaaluk was frequently “black and blue” from domestic violence. At the time of her arrest, workers at the shelter were in the process of placing her in her own apartment, according to a 2015 report in the Nunatsiaq News.
At her hearing Thursday morning, Quannaaluk listened quietly as witnesses delineated the options for Judge David to consider. She did not speak at all during the proceedings, except for a few whispered sentences to her attorney.
David told Ducharme it is important that she oversees Quannaaluk’s probation, leads her through the steps of reintegration, and makes sure she has a place to stay and a detailed plan for up to three years of probation.
The judge stated that he wants to do things “the right way. I’m looking for a specified schedule for structured probation, if I decide on a suspended sentence.”
Under Quebec law, a suspended sentence means the offender has a criminal record, but is placed on probation for up to three years. David made it clear to Ducharme that he would want a specified schedule, detailed conditions, and steady supervision.
“I want to make failure as unlikely as possible,” David said.
Ducharme testified that she has names of psychological professionals who work with aboriginal people, and that Santé Canada will pay for up to 15 therapy sessions.
Also under consideration is Ms. Quannaaluk’s aboriginal heritage. The court is required to consider reasonable alternatives to imprisonment for aboriginals, as per the Gladue Report of 1999. The report states that special cultural considerations must be taken into account for aboriginal offenders.
The biggest problem facing Quannaaluk right now, said Ducharme, is limited housing, and waiting lists. Quannaaluk speaks only English, so external resources are easier to seek to accommodate her.
Next to testify was Jean-François Guernon, Correctional Program Officer at Joliette Institution for Women, where Quannaaluk has been detained. Guernon outlined programs for inmates to be reintegrated into society, stating that the average program, five days per week, would take approximately three or four months to complete.
Guernon said that the program addresses the needs of all inmates, security level of each inmate is re-evaluated for reintegration, and that eventually the inmate is given permission to work outside the establishment.
One of the aspects Guernon described was a program whereby two elders come to visit bi-monthly. They cook traditional meals (such as beluga and Arctic char) with the aboriginal inmates, to help them stay in touch with their heritage. Inuit literature and magazines are purchased for them as well. Quannaaluk’s weathered face lit up for one of the rare times she showed emotion in the hearing, clearly eager to be in touch with her roots.
Archambault pointedly asked about the Inuit culture at Joliette.
Guernon admitted that no, there are no Inuit women working in the program, and there are no Inuit elders. Ducharme, upon testifying again, expressed concern as Quannaaluk has experienced abuse at the hands of the Mohawk, and is seeking her own people.
Options mentioned by Ducharme include Onen’tó:kon, a trauma-focused, cultural-based rehabilitation program located near Oka, Portage, and Dianova. Onen’tó:kon’s premise of healing and recovery seemed ideal, however its location on Mohawk territory precludes it from being a place she wants to be.
During what was largely an informal exchange between attorneys, witnesses, and judge, the hearing culminated in another delay of sentencing. Judge David set September 6 as the date on which he will render his decision.
After the judge had exited to chambers, and the lawyers and witnesses had left the courtroom, Ms. Quannaaluk was handcuffed by the guards who had flanked her at the beginning of the morning. She quietly left with them, and the room emptied of the last spectators.
Update: On September 6, 2018, Supreme Court Justice, Marc David, delivered his sentence. Quannaaluk, having already served three years in prison, received a suspended sentence, with a dozen conditions including mandatory therapy, assigned court dates for re-evaluation, and community work. David cited Quannaaluk’s post-traumatic shock and the fact that she has no history of violence.