Ottawa Citizen

Thursday 12 November 1998

An insult to our sense of justice

The Ottawa Citizen

As a society, we must not condone killing. That's why husband-killer Lilian Getkate's sentence of two years less a day at home is an insult to our sense of natural justice.

The sentencing decision by Justice James Chadwick magnifies a disturbing trend to accept excuses from killers. There are exceptional circumstances that justify killing. The clearest would be self-defence. The courts have expanded that to allow battered women to strike a pre-emptive blow, even when there is no imminent threat to them.

Whether or not you agree with it as a defence, it is not one to which Lilian Getkate has any legitimate claim. Her story of abuse was unsubstantiated by any supporting evidence. No police reports. No hospital visits. Not even the testimony of friends or relatives.

On the contrary, friends and relatives had nothing unkind to say about Maury Getkate. Only his killer saw him as a physically and sexually abusive monster, a threat to herself and even her children.

Had Mrs. Getkate dialed 911 and repeated those allegations, police would have quickly taken her husband away. Instead of picking up the phone, she picked up a gun and shot him twice in the back while he slept.

That's a deliberate act more suggestive of first-degree murder than manslaughter, the crime of which she was convicted. Mrs. Getkate had already had a lucky day in court when the jury convicted her on the lesser charge.

Although Mrs. Getkate's story had the obvious motivation of saving her from prison, it seems to have been accepted at face value by the court.

Even the killer seemed surprised that she wouldn't be going to jail. You'd be surprised too if you killed your spouse, admitted to the deed, then found yourself sentenced to living in your home community of Maple Ridge, in temperate British Columbia.

The judge says Mrs. Getkate doesn't need to go to jail because she isn't a threat to society. Also, she has rehabilitated herself by expressing remorse.

What a simple system. All killers have to do is say they're sorry and they won't do it again and they're on their way. This places firing a gun on a par with firing a spitball.

The court's main concern seems to be the future comfort and well-being of Mrs. Getkate. What about the guy she killed? Didn't he have any rights?

Judge Chadwick said that some would find his sentence too lenient, others too harsh. Too harsh?

In Canada, we don't allow the state to exercise capital punishment. How can we allow an individual to execute a man, based strictly on her own assessment of circumstances, and then confer the right to kill on her?

Judge Chadwick is a highly regarded member of the local bench with many decades of experience in the law. As well, the public will never know what went on in the Getkate home on Falaise Road.

However, the fact that someone could be convicted of manslaughter in this country and get off with a judicial slap on the wrist -- a conditional sentence of two years and 200 hours of community service -- is shocking.

This sentence doesn't constitute a punishment and surely that's what is required for taking a human life. If the courts don't believe that, then we have turned a marriage licence into a licence to kill.