Indigenous men urged to speak up about abuse at MMIWG hearing

While testifying about her aunt at the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry in Rankin Inlet, Janet Brewster said Indigenous men need to be part of the discussion on abuse.

Jayko Ritchie says his mom's death led to him becoming an abuser himself

Janet Brewster speaks at the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry in Rankin Inlet. She says Indigenous men need to speak about abuse. (CBC)

One of Janet Brewster's recommendations to the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls came to fruition on Thursday — at least in a small way.

She called for the inquiry to get perspectives from Indigenous men.

"Ask them to participate," Brewster said Thursday. "Make an effort to find out from them and their families what trauma led them to abuse."

Brewster was testifying about her aunt Sylvia Lyall, 41, who was strangled by her common-law spouse in Iqaluit in June 2004.

Pat Anablak, who was 53 at the time, remained in his house with Lyall's body for two days before police found them. They were responding to a request from the family to check up on the couple.

According to Brewster, Anablak was originally charged with first-degree murder before the charge was downgraded to second-degree murder before the trial.

Anablak eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was handed a 15-year sentence, with time served in custody credited to it.

During Brewster's testimony, Lyall's son, Jayko Ritchie, heeded her call to hear from more men. He had been sitting at the front of the hearing room with his aunt, providing support.

He stood up to speak: 

"What Patrick Anablak did to my mother impacted me in the worst way, because for a little while, I became that type of person," he said, describing abuse he inflicted on an ex-partner.

He admitted he faced a charge due to that violence.

"This is for all the women out there going through hardship and hard times and abuse," Ritchie said. "The worst thing that you can do is stay quiet. The best thing to do is have absolutely no shame in what's going on. Speak out. Reach out. And don't ever be afraid."

Jayko Ritchie speaks about the impact abuse has on people, encouraging women not to be afraid to speak out. 2:54

Automatic first-degree murder charge

Brewster went on to describe how going through the investigative and court process affected her and her family, and made recommendations for improvements.

For example, when she called RCMP to request an officer check up on Lyall in June 2004, she said she made a mistake by using diplomatic language to describe the situation out of respect for her aunt.

She told police her aunt was in a "difficult" relationship, instead of saying outright she believed she was in danger.

"One of the things nobody tells you … is that everything that you say to the police is recorded and is of importance when somebody dies," she said.

"Had I known she died and I would learn about the court system, I would have chosen different words. I would say, 'I think my aunt has been murdered by Pat Anablak. That would have established he had threatened her, and it was a real possibility, and that would have ensured that a first-degree murder charge would stick."

Brewster recommended to the inquiry that an automatic first-degree murder charge be applied in domestic cases where the perpetrator has been previously convicted of violence against his or her victim.

Lyall's belongings stolen

Lyall was living in Government of Nunavut housing when she was killed. After the death, the government came into the house, according to Brewster, and emptied it of Lyall and Anablak's belongings.

In the process, a number of items belonging to Lyall were stolen. Brewster testified she received a phone call some time later from the women's shelter saying they'd found some clothing with Lyall's identification in a pocket.

Sylvia Lyall is shown in this photo from her family. (Submitted )
But that wasn't all.

"I would often see a woman walking down the street wearing Sylvia's very distinctive jacket," she said, describing a black coat with the white silhouette of a woman on it.

"She was wearing that jacket the last time I saw her."

Children taken away

After Lyall's death, a hearing was held to determine who would get custody of Jayko, and Brewster said she wasn't made aware the hearing was happening so she could participate.

"Although he was in foster care, in a safe place with me, we weren't given the opportunity to decide as a family what was best for Jayko," she said.

"I think we need to look at the system and address the misguided governmental, organizational idea that somehow we can't parent our children."

'We know what you did'

Brewster said Corrections Canada has told her that as of Feb. 29, he will be off parole.

In her testimony, Brewster described Anablak as a manipulative man who took advantage of Lyall and went on to take advantage of the court system by delaying court proceedings as long as possible by firing his lawyer, claiming he couldn't hear the proceedings, and accepting a plea bargain for a manslaughter conviction at the last possible second.

"Pat, I hope you are listening or watching, because I just want to let you know we know what you did," Brewster said.

"We know what you did."