Nunavut woman killed abusive partner in self-defence, judge finds

A Nunavut woman who stabbed and killed her abusive partner has been acquitted of all charges after a judge found she acted in self-defence.

Sandra Ameralik fatally stabbed Howie Aaluk in 2017 in Gjoa Haven

The RCMP detachment in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. A Gjoa Haven woman who stabbed and killed her abusive partner has been acquitted of all charges after a judge found she acted in self-defence. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

A Nunavut woman who stabbed and killed her abusive partner has been acquitted of all charges after a judge found she acted in self-defence. 

Sandra Ameralik stabbed Howie Aaluk in the chest while in the kitchen of the couple's home in Gjoa Haven on June 25, 2017. She was charged with second-degree murder.

Ameralik was pregnant at the time of the incident. 

"I am left with no doubt that Ms. Ameralik suffered significantly for years as a victim of intimate partner abuse," Justice Sue Charlesworth said in her decision released Jan. 27.

That abuse included at least seven police-reported incidents and one incident when Aaluk, who towered over Ameralik by about 35 centimetres, punched her twice in the stomach while she was pregnant with another child, the decision said. 

"Ms. Ameralik's use of force was not out of proportion to the threat of violence she was experiencing at the time of the incident," said Charlesworth. 

"I find that she was trying to protect herself and her baby when she stabbed Mr. Aaluk."

7 police-reported incidents 

Over Ameralik and Aaluk's 10-year relationship, seven police incident reports relating to domestic violence were completed, Charlesworth said. 

On one occasion Ameralik "woke up at the health centre with a fractured cheekbone, some teeth knocked out and her face bruised," the decision reads. 

On another occasion, Aaluk "grabbed her and punched her or put [Ameralik] down" while a baby was in her amauti, said the decision. 

Ameralik would not testify or attend court, usually because "Aaluk would tell her to stay home." 

On June 25, 2017, Aaluk told Ameralik to prepare dinner for their kids, the court decision said. 

Ameralik testified that Aaluk was acting strange, was aggressive and calling her names. 

The community of Gjoa Haven, where on June 25, 2017 Sandra Ameralik stabbed and killed her partner Howie Aaluk. A Nunavut judge found Ameralik acted in self-defence. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

She punched him in the head two or three times, Ameralik testified. 

Aaluk shouted that she should "just ... stab" him.

"She was facing the kitchen counter, and he was only two or three feet away, so she grabbed the knife that was going to be used to cut the pepperoni for the pizza, then turned around and stabbed him in the chest, although she was aiming for his arm," Charlesworth wrote. 

Judge acquits on 2nd degree murder, manslaughter

Charlesworth rejected the Crown's case for second-degree murder. 

Ameralik's defence for the lesser charge of manslaughter rested on self-defence. 

In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada considered its first case, called R v Lavallee, involving the defence of so-called battered spouse syndrome. 

The federal court ruled that an abused partner did not have to wait to be assaulted again before acting in self-defence. 

Given the history of abuse, the day's events and Ameralik's vulnerable state, Charlesworth said she accepted the argument of self-defence. 

Alison Crowe, Ameralik's defence lawyer, told CBC News in an email that this is the first time in Nunavut history an abused woman's self-defence claim has led to an acquittal in a homicide case. 

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada put out a statement in response to this decision that said the case is a tragedy not only for the families and children involved but the community of Gjoa Haven as well. 

More funding needed: Pauktuutit

"Nunavut's high rates of intimate partner violence are part of the horrific legacy of colonization," Rebecca Kudloo, president of the association said. 

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, says more funding is needed to address intimate partner violence in Nunavut. (Eye on the Arctic)

The federal government's recent announcement to fund five shelters for victims of domestic abuse are a step in the right direction but more funding is needed, Kudloo said. 

"Additionally, emergency dispatch and policing services in our communities must be highly responsive to all calls for help and protection, due to fears and incidents of domestic violence and abuse," Kudloo said. 

Pauktuutit also announced last week a new agreement with the RCMP to address systemic issues that impact Inuit women.