Globe and Mail

Woman killed husband, must serve community

Aboriginal background cited in leniency

Wednesday, January 20, 1999
British Columbia Bureau

Vancouver -- Deanna Emard, a 28-year-old Métis woman who fatally stabbed her common-law husband with a butcher knife during a drunken brawl, will not go to jail for the killing.

In sentencing Ms. Emard to a term of two years less a day to be served in the community under specific conditions, Mr. Justice Paul Williamson of the B.C. Supreme Court took into account, among other factors, a new section of the Criminal Code suggesting courts ease up on aboriginal defendants when considering whether to send them to jail.

"Her story, sadly, is consistent with a life, through no fault of their own, that is characteristic of many aboriginal people," Judge Williamson told the crowded courtroom. "She had led a very unhappy life. I take this background into account in sentencing [the defendant]."

Ms. Emard's father ran out on the family when she was very young, a sister died of a drug overdose, an uncle died during a drinking binge, while one of her two brothers suffered a severely debilitating injury during an assault.

Last month, a jury found her guilty of manslaughter in the death of Wilfred Shorson, 39, who died from a single stab wound to the heart.

Ms. Emard and her lawyer, Peter Wilson, asked Judge Williamson to consider Section 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code when passing sentence.

The section, which has been attacked by some as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for natives, says that "all available sanctions other than imprisonment, that are reasonable in the circumstance, should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to aboriginal offenders."

However, Judge Williamson indicated there were other factors that also influenced his decision, including Ms. Emard's remorse, inconclusive evidence over whether the accused meant to kill her husband, the strong attachment of Ms. Emard's five-year-old daughter to her mother, and so-far-successful counselling since the incident to stop drinking.

Nor, said the judge, does Ms. Emard's aboriginal background absolve her of blame for taking out "a long, sharp butcher knife" as the quarrel began. "Such conduct cries out for denunciation."

Although Ms. Emard's sentence is technically a jail term, she will serve it in the community, provided she abides by a number of conditions, such as refraining from drugs and alcohol. She was also ordered to perform 240 hours of community service over the next 18 months.

Ms. Emard declined to talk to reporters after the sentencing. "She wants to get on with her life," someone close to her explained.

But members of Mr. Shorson's family bitterly denounced the sentence.

"She doesn't even go to jail. It's just a slap on the wrist," said his sister Mabelle, breaking down in tears. Her brother "didn't ask to die. He didn't bring this on himself. . . . But they made him out to be the guilty party."

According to court testimony, Ms. Emard and Mr. Shorson, a Haida, had both been drinking heavily and they began to fight after he kicked in the bedroom door.

Ms. Emard ran to get a knife. Her husband of nine years was stabbed as they struggled. There was no evidence he had previously abused Ms. Emard, who was five centimetres taller and 50 kilograms heavier.

"In those circumstances, anything could happen," Judge Williamson said.

Prosecutor Robert Ruttan, who asked for a two-to-three-year prison term, said the Crown will not likely appeal.

Copyright © 1999 The Globe and Mail