VANCOUVER – A judge in British Columbia has sentenced an Indigenous woman to four years in prison for manslaughter, but says it doesn’t seem right that incarceration was the best available option.
Sadie Taniskishayinew was convicted last October of fatally stabbing 31-year-old Robert Boucher on a Vancouver street in November 2015.
Her trial heard that she and Boucher had been drinking, but there seemed to be little motive for the stabbing and the woman left without calling for help, then tossed the butcher knife into an alley garbage can.
Justice Susan Griffin said in a decision posted this week that Boucher’s death was senseless and addressed his family directly, noting the Indigenous man was killed before his daughter reached her first birthday.
“Mr. Boucher was a valuable person and did not deserve to die, and I have taken into account the value of his life and the loss to his family,” she said. “Far too many Indigenous people die violent deaths in Canada. His life mattered.”
Imposing a fit sentence in the case was a difficult task, considering the background of both the victim and the attacker, Griffin added.
The decision said Taniskishayinew is a 25-year-old Indigenous woman who has experienced significant neglect, trauma and loss, including the death of one of her three children.
A report prepared before the sentencing hearing noted her family had attended residential school, and she is suspected of having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The report also listed a number of extensive injuries she had suffered as the result of significant violence, including broken bones, concussions and slashes that required stitches.
Griffin said Taniskishayinew admits to being addicted to alcohol, and that she was using methamphetamines and drinking heavily when Boucher was killed.
“She feels that if she had been sober, the offence would never have happened,” she said.
It’s not surprising that Taniskishayinew struggled with substance use or lashed out violently, the judge added.
“Given her painful and harsh life, it is little wonder that Ms. Taniskishayinew reacts violently and impulsively and drowns her emotional pain with intoxicants. It does not seem right, as a society, that we do not have better options for her than jail.”
She noted that the woman will need significant counselling “given the social problems caused to our Indigenous communities by Canadian historic injustices, and the need to avoid over-incarceration.”
But Griffin said that Taniskishayinew’s violent history made her a risk to the public and it had to be noted that she had taken a life.
With credit for time spent awaiting trial, she will serve a further year and a half in prison and then must complete three years probation.
Griffin urged the woman to dedicate herself to mental health and trauma counselling, and told her that she must stay sober for the rest of her life.
“Getting out of prison is only the first step,” she said.