Women’s advocates say the judge’s decision is infuriating in a province where one in two women are abused.
When Newfoundland Judge Lori Marshall gave Lancelot Saunders an absolute discharge after he admitted to assaulting his ex-girlfriend, she praised him for taking responsibility for his actions.
But in the aftermath of the sentencing—which VICE reported on Friday—Saunders, 20, has taken to social media to seemingly gloat about the fact that he’s not in jail and to accuse his ex Aden Savoie of being hungry for attention.
Saunders, who will not have a criminal record nor probation despite his guilty plea, wrote on Instagram yesterday,
“If somebody actually assaulted you and beat you you eould (sic) call the police right away she just wanted attention.” In response to one comment that he should be in jail, he wrote, “but I’m not :).” Saunders also made a number of disparaging comments about feminism.
“Do women really want equality or are men always going to be slandered as women beaters for defending them selves (sic).”
According to the facts of the case, read aloud in court, Saunders pulled Savoie’s hair, pushed her, and hit her with a coat hanger on April 9. Savoie told VICE he was agitated after he took numerous prescription drugs and the pair had an argument over her cell phone.
In her judgment, issued December 1, Marshall focused on not wanting to burden Saunders with a criminal record.
“Three years in a young person’s life when they’re trying to get things on track, trying to get into university, work programs, all sorts of different things, that could be crushing to you if you were showing as having a criminal record for three plus years from this point going forward,” she said. She described Saunders’ behaviour as an “isolated incident” and ruled against giving him probation with drug counselling and anger management.
Saunders Instagram feed features numerous posts of prescription pills. In a comment posted two days ago, he wrote, “Fuck oxy where’s the dilaudid at.” Dilaudid is a powerful prescription opioid.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, one in two women in province will experience at least one incident of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime and it’s the only territory in which domestic violence increased between 1994 and 2004. In 70 percent of cases, the abuse comes from a spouse or partner. Only 10 percent of victims report the abuse to police.
Given that, legal and women’s advocacy experts in Newfoundland told VICE Judge Marshall’s decision is infuriating.
“It’s staggering isn’t it, it’s absolutely staggering,” said Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. “For him you know, there’s a free pass to go ahead and do it again.”
Wright pointed out that Marshall could have ordered Saunders to receive counselling on violence against women, which would already be a lenient sentence, but “that was completely ignored.”
Lynn Moore, a former Crown attorney who now represents victims of childhood sexual abuse, echoed those sentiments. She said she used to work in a family violence intervention court that specialized in dealing with domestic assault cases. In exchange for pleading guilty and agreeing to counselling and supervision, an offender can have a reduced sentenced.
In Saunders’ case, “he took no steps to reform or rehabilitate himself” but he still got a discounted sentence. While she said not everyone will benefit from going in jail, in this case the judge should have at least issued probation and ordered Saunders to stay away from Savoie. After he was arrested, Saunders did breach a no-contact order but that charge was dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
Moore said she sees a need for reform in how victims of domestic or sexual violence are treated under cross-examination—a concern that’s been raised many times in recent years.
Michelle Greene, executive director of Iris Kirby House, a women’s shelter in St. John’s, told VICE Judge Marshall’s message to victims is clear: “your future doesn’t matter, his does.”
She said this judgment is a perfect example of why women don’t come forward and report abuse.
Savoie previously told VICE she wouldn’t have gone through with this process if she had known this would be the outcome.
Greene said another issue she’s seen recently is judges refusing to grant Iris Kirby House residents emergency protection orders, which are similar to restraining orders.
“They didn’t think they needed them—they were at the transition house so they weren’t in danger,” Greene told VICE. But without a protection order, women become “prisoner” to the transition house, she said.
Every year, St. John's Status of Women's Council organizes an In Her Name vigil to honour the province’s missing and murdered women. In 2017, there were 122 names on the list.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.