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Woman's family waits five years for closure

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 10, 2008

IQALUIT - Family of the late Susan Natar sat patiently through days of deliberations at a sentencing hearing for her killer last week.

Silas Ammaklak, the Baffin Correctional Centre's (BCC) longest-serving inmate in remand, was charged in the beating death of his common-law partner in Hall Beach in 2003.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in late 2006 after a full preliminary hearing, and has remained in jail, but not yet sentenced, since.

"It's been five years without answers, without being able to shut that door. They relive this every day," said Crown lawyer Qajaq Robinson in the Nunavut Court of Justice.

Prosecuting attorneys have asked for life in prison, with a possibility of parole after 10 years.

Defence has suggested eight to 12 years jail time.

Justice Robert Kilpatrick is expected to pass sentence in Iqaluit on Dec. 2.

Ammaklak sat sullenly throughout most of the proceedings in his BCC-issued blue garments and shoulder-length hair.

He showed some emotion as the court watched a videotaped statement Natar made three years before she died, after fleeing to Rankin Inlet in fear of her safety.

In the RCMP video, Natar sat in a small room, her petite frame bundled in a winter coat as she recounted two violent attacks and a relationship based on fear and manipulation.

As the court heard, Natar returned to Hall Beach after Ammaklak threatened to shoot her family in Iglulik.

He pleaded guilty to common assault for a Nov. 2, 2000 incident involving his partner.

In return, a second charge for assault with a weapon was dropped.

At the sentencing for that conviction, the judge warned Ammaklak not to continue on his path of drinking and abuse. He was told, "if you don't change this, you will kill her," Robinson said.

Despite the warning, he continued to drink.

"Putting alcohol into his system was like loading a bullet into a gun," Robinson said.

On Sept. 21, 2003, after a night of drinking, Ammaklak became enraged at Natar.

An eight-year-old girl in Hall Beach was the only witness to the beginning of what Crown attorneys described as a "vicious and protracted beating."

Upon his arrest, Ammaklak was first charged with aggravated assault and two counts of obstructing justice - he placed phone calls asking acquaintances to provide false testimony.

Natar died from her injuries five days later after being medevaced to Ottawa. The charges against Ammaklak were consequently raised to second-degree murder.

Due to his high level of intoxication, among other factors, he was able to plead guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter.

Natar's story is unfortunately far too common in our territory, said Robinson.

"We lead the country at an alarming rate of spousal homicide," she said, pointing to a rate of 71.5 out of one million, compared to a national average of four out of one million.

"In Nunavut it is without a doubt that spousal violence is almost epidemic ... this is something we see in these courts on a daily basis," Robinson said.

These numbers "echo the vulnerability of women, and I would say, the vulnerability of Susan, as a woman who was in an abusive relationship," she said.

Ammaklak himself was part of a cycle of violence that began in his childhood, his lawyer Andy Mahar told the court.

Adopted by his grandparents but returned to his immediate family when he was five, Ammaklak became "something of a pariah child in that he was beaten by his father (and family members) for even taking a little bit of extra food," Mahar said.

He also mentioned Ammaklak's long incarceration without sentencing, and read a statement of apology from his client.

In the end, Natar's family had a chance to say their piece of sadness and anger to Ammaklak as well.

One by one, they filed into the witness box, and, in Inuktitut and English, expressed their grief and anger at a life taken so early and violently.

One of Natar's cousins said she was saddened by the fact that Natar's father and grandmother passed away before the case was resolved in court.

"My grandmother, who passed away, was asking everyday whether he (Ammaklak) was denying what he did or not and that's what she had to go through in the last days of life," the cousin said.