National Post

Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Metis woman avoids jail term for killing husband
Citing changes to Criminal Code, lawyer seeks leniency

Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun

A Metis woman who stabbed to death her common-law husband was given a conditional sentence of two years less a day after her lawyer argued her aboriginal background should help mitigate her sentence.

Deanna Emard, 28, will serve her time in the community, enabling her to look after her five-year-old daughter.

Peter Wilson, for the defence, had argued that Ms. Emard should not be sent to jail because she is a disadvantaged Metis woman.

He cited a relatively new section of the Criminal Code designed to address the disproportionately high number of native people behind bars in Canada.

Emard was found guilty by a jury on Dec. 15 of the manslaughter of Wilfred Shorson, 39, who was part native Indian.

"He didn't ask to die, he didn't bring it on himself," said the victim's sister, Mabelle Shorson, fighting back tears as she talked to reporters after the sentencing.

"It's a slap on the wrist," Ms. Shorson said of the sentence imposed by British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Paul Williamson, who also ordered Emard to perform 240 hours of community service work. Failure to meet the conditions will result in Emard serving her time in jail.

Ms. Shorson said she was not convinced by Emard's arguments for leniency based on her alcohol consumption and the fact she was Metis. "Alcohol is not an excuse, and neither is being a native," she said. "There should be justice for everyone -- not one system for Indian and Metis people and one for white people."

"She should have went to jail," said Samantha Shorson, a niece of the victim, who came from a family of 12 and had 22 nieces and nephews. "She got off scot free."

Jody Pierce, president of the Metis provincial council of B.C., said the case underscores a need for government to offer more support and funding for Metis people to prevent a similar tragedy.

"This has happened to many people across Canada, over and over again," he said, noting there are 27,000 Metis people in B.C. "We know our prisons are overflowing with Metis people and native people."

Emard fatally stabbed her husband during an argument on Jan. 26, 1997, in the couple's East Vancouver home.

In earlier testimony, she offered a tearful apology in court for the fatal stabbing, saying Wilfred was the only man she had ever loved. She asked the court to spare her from jail so she could look after the couple's daughter.

Emard's lawyer had argued his client should fall under a relatively new sentencing provision -- it came into effect in September, 1996 -- which says a judge must pay particular attention to native Indian offenders.

Sec. 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code states "all available sanctions other than imprisonment, that are reasonable in the circumstance, should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to aboriginal offenders."

Crown prosecutor Robert Ruttan argued the sentencing provision isn't intended to offer an "aboriginal discount" for offenders. Instead, it is intended to embrace such alternative forms of native justice as sentencing circles or traditional banishment from a community.

The Crown had urged the judge to impose a two-three year jail sentence on Emard, who was only moderately drunk at the time of the offence -- she had a blood-alcohol level of .145, less than twice the drunk-driving limit of .08.

The couple was returning from a niece's birthday party, when Emard punched her husband, which started a fight in their home.

The court was told the husband was a non-violent person who had never laid a hand on his wife. It also heard that Deanna Emard had punched her husband in the mouth once before.

Mr. Ruttan said once her husband was wound up, smashing his fist into a wall and kicking in a bedroom door, Emard went to the kitchen and got a knife to threaten him.

During a tussle, she stabbed her husband once. She claimed it was an accident and was immediately remorseful.

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