Edmonton lawyer suspended for abusing his wife, legal partner for 17 years

Newlyweds Ravi and Shannon Prithipaul spent 1994 living in Paris. It was the worst year of their long, abusive marriage, Shannon testified last year at a preliminary hearing into her husband’s assault charges.

‘The physical pain I endured was secondary to the emotional pain,’ says Shannon Prithipaul

Lawyer Ravi Prithipaul, 52, pleaded guilty in October to assault charges. He has been suspended for a year by the Law Society of Alberta. (Ravi Prithipaul/ravilaw.ca)

Newlyweds Ravi and Shannon Prithipaul spent 1994 living in Paris.

It was the worst year of their long, abusive marriage, Shannon testified last year at a preliminary hearing into her husband's assault charges.

"It was very tense," said Shannon, an Edmonton criminal lawyer and former president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.

"I remember one incident in particular, where Ravi had called me a moron, an idiot. He said I was dirty, and he knocked me down and dragged me by my hair into another portion of the room."

She said her husband dumped a pail of dirty diapers on her head.

"It stood out from the other episodes of violence, because it was very demeaning," she said. "It was humiliating. The other times had just been physically violent and painful, but that was very upsetting for other reasons."

On Oct. 2, Edmonton criminal lawyer Ravi Prithipaul admitted in court that he had repeatedly abused his wife for 17 years during the course of their marriage. The 52-year-old pleaded guilty to criminal assault charges the day his trial was scheduled to begin.

Shannon told CBC News she is in the process of divorcing her husband and former law partner.

Shannon Prithipaul told CBC News she is in the process of divorcing her husband. (CBC)

A Crown prosecutor was brought in from Calgary to prosecute the case, which was heard in Edmonton by Calgary Court of Queen's Bench Justice Glen Poelman.

Ravi Prithipaul was sentenced on Oct. 6. He will not spend any time in jail. He was ordered to pay $600 in a victim fine surcharge and given one year of house arrest.

The Law Society of Alberta has suspended his practice for one year.

Ravi Prithipaul refused comment. The Criminal Trial Lawyer's Association also declined to issue a statement.

Long history of abuse

Shannon Prithipaul testified at the preliminary hearing that when she married Ravi on Jan. 2, 1993, she had no idea her husband could be violent.

"When it first occurred, I was shocked," she wrote in a victim impact statement. "Ravi had always presented as very polished, patient and gentle.

"The reality at home, I soon found, was very different. The physical pain I endured was secondary to the emotional pain."

Like many other victims of domestic violence, Shannon began to doubt and blame herself.

"Under a barrage of constant criticism, I began to feel that I would never measure up," she wrote in her victim impact statement. "I began wondering if it were my fault."

She tried to do everything possible to avoid setting her husband off. But the abuse continued.

"I became increasingly isolated. That isolation extended to being silent about what was happening in the house."

Shannon wrote that she often thought about leaving, and the couple did separate a few times over the years. But she always returned, willing to give her husband the benefit of the doubt.

Court was told Ravi took counselling and anger management courses. Shannon was convinced things would get better, that he was trying to change.

It was only after they permanently separated in 2015 that she gained some perspective.

"Looking back now, I am not as convinced as I was that he was really trying," she wrote. "Can one really try that hard over 22 years and not succeed? "

Keeping it secret

All that time, the Prithipauls were not only partners in marriage but legal partners with a thriving practice. She couldn't get away from her abusive husband when she left the house for work.

"It felt hopeless," she wrote. "No one knew what was happening. Going to work after having been assaulted and seeing the abuser at work was brutal. I had to constantly pretend all was fine. But I felt safe nowhere. I had no refuge anywhere."

Ravi Prithipaul left Gunn Law Group six months after he was charged with assaulting his wife and partner, Shannon. (Gunn Law Group, 2014)

Four months after Ravi was criminally charged in June 2015, Shannon asked him to leave the firm.

"His first reaction was to threaten that he was going to try to get me to leave," she wrote.

He continued to work at their firm for another two months before finally leaving to open his own business. She carried a police beeper with her everywhere for those two months.

"I was absolutely terrified. With Ravi facing serious consequences and sure that he saw me as the reason, I felt he could … really snap.

"The day he left, I began to breathe a little easier."

'It's a heartbreaker'

Jackie Foord, CEO of the YWCA Edmonton, calls the story "disheartening."

"To know that someone lived that way, not only at home, but at work. It's a heartbreaker," she said.

The YWCA in Edmonton counsels thousands of women annually who are victims of domestic violence.

"Unfortunately, it takes high-profile cases like this to reinforce what we see every day. It's not a socio-economic problem, it's not a race problem, it's not a religious problem. It's a human problem. It's everywhere."

Some members of the legal community are grumbling behind the scenes about the lightness of the sentence.

For the first six months, Ravi Prithipaul must remain in his home around the clock. For the second half of his sentence, he'll have an overnight curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

His victim has mixed emotions about the sentence.

"I'm not one of the spouses that wants to hang my husband up by his toes," Shannon said during cross-examination at July 2016 preliminary hearing.

"I can do only what I can do, and I compartmentalized a lot," she said. "I was co-operative with the police, but I don't bear him any ill will going forward. I'm not trying to hurt him. I'm just telling what happened."

In her victim impact statement, read in court earlier this month, Shannon said she was regaining her inner strength, beginning to heal.

"After having been silent for decades," she said, "I am grateful for this opportunity to finally use the voice it has taken me years to find."

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston