Content warning: This story contains descriptions of graphic violence.
A Saskatoon family is airing their frustrations with the justice system four years after a little boy survived a gruesome stabbing committed by his mother.
The boy, his father and his older brother spoke with Gormley Thursday. A court order protecting the identity of the victim prevents any of their names from being published.
Details of the March 2013 events came out during a sentencing hearing at Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench in April 2016.
The boys were staying at their mothers’ home. Their father came to pick the boys up and found their mother in an agitated state. She forbade him to enter the home and locked the door. He eventually called police.
Meanwhile, inside the house, the mother had taken her youngest son, then six years old, into the bathroom where she used a knife described as being between 30 and 36 centimetres long to stab him several times in the abdomen and cut him across the throat.
She then turned the blade on herself, slashing her wrists and stabbing herself several times in the stomach.
The boy’s older brother, then 11 years old, unlocked the front door for police. The boy and his mother were both taken to hospital. The mother was eventually charged with attempted murder.
In an interview with Gormley aired Thursday, the boy’s father said he felt the system first let his family down when a judge decided to grant the woman bail. From there, the case dragged on as the woman and her lawyer filed numerous motions requiring the Crown to respond.
“The judge made the decision and so, her dad posted the bond, and then she was allowed to remain out of prison for basically three-and-a-half years before all this got sorted out,” he said.
Both boys and their father said they lived in constant worry while the woman was on bail.
The boys’ father said it got worse when the woman’s parents split up, requiring her and her dad to move.
That’s when he said he got a call from a Crown prosecutor informing him they’d chosen a residence just five blocks from where the boys were living.
“This was the first real eye-opener for how unprepared our justice system is to deal with this stuff,” he said.
Ultimately, the woman was allowed to live at the new address.
The boy’s father said he then learned the conditions of her house arrest weren’t what he’d thought. He said this came after a friend saw the woman out shopping, prompting him to file a police report.
“It was finally explained to myself and my family that she actually has … in excess of 10 hours a week of various personal things she was allowed to do,” he said, adding this time was in addition to any appointment she might make for things such as doctor’s visits or meetings with her lawyer.
He said he also wasn’t told when the woman had her electronic monitoring anklet removed and was never informed the anklet didn’t provide authorities with her exact location, but only informed them if she left her residence.
The lengthy wait for a sentence came to an end when the woman pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault.
But again, they boy’s father said the system failed to account for victims’ rights to feel safe.
Originally set to be sentenced in March 2016, the woman applied for, and was granted, a delay in order to attend her grandmother’s 95th birthday celebration.
The boy’s father said the decision left him shocked and inflicted more suffering on himself and his sons.
“She was actually allowed out for an additional 40-some days. Under house arrest. After she had pled guilty to aggravated assault on a six-year-old child. To attend a birthday party. Another in a long line of the system letting us down. Of the system not caring for the victims,” he said.
The woman is now about 18 months into her sentence. The boy’s father said he since learned she was transferred to a minimum security healing lodge, despite being Caucasian with no known Indigenous ancestry.
Since then, the boy’s father said he learned the woman had applied for, and been granted, a transfer to another minimum-security facility in Edmonton.
Ultimately, the boy’s father said his biggest concern was with the way the justice system handles mental health.
Following her arrest, a pair of psychiatrists found the woman fit to face a criminal trial. However, the doctors’ reports noted she suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The doctors also said it was likely she’d been left with a brain injury after being struck by a drunk driver some years before the stabbing.
Prior to agreeing to her plea to the charge of aggravated assault, the Crown noted the woman’s mental health issues left significant doubt about securing a conviction to the original charge of attempted murder.
Despite all this, the boy’s father said that, to his knowledge, the woman has never undergone a full psychiatric assessment of the kind that could have seen her committed to a mental health facility.
“Unless you are serving a life sentence. they can’t force a full-blown psych assessment,” he said, adding he didn’t feel sending her to a regular prison was the way to protect him and his sons, as she will be entitled to statutory release after two-thirds of her sentence.
“It felt like it was the easy way out for her and the system just opened the door and said, ‘Here you go.’ Five-and-a-half years in prison, which actually isn’t five-and-a-half years,’ and then she gets out. No one is bothering to look at the mental health side of this,” he said.
He said this leaves him concerned about what will happen when the woman gets out and has made it difficult for him, his sons and his new partner to plan their futures.
“It’s clear, clearer than crystal clear can be, that there are mental health issues. She needs to be assessed. Because there will come a point where she’s released, and the system has nothing to say about what she does, where she goes, how she does it,” he said.
Both boys, now 10 and 15, told Gormley they have no desire to have any further contact with their mother, but said they feared she would try to make contact, describing her as “relentless.”
Their father said he’s also concerned, and hasn’t found the police response to his worries to be of any comfort.
“The line that the police keeps giving us is, ‘Call us if something goes wrong.’ Does someone actually have to be bleeding, if she’s on the front lawn and she’s not supposed to be there, because we have a restraining order — is that enough?
The system has let us down so many times, I don’t feel like we’re protected by the system. They’re certainly not doing their job with her in the institution, when she gets out, who knows?”
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Bryn Levy.