An imposed sentence for 18 years’ incarceration is considered fit for an Indigenous offender convicted of manslaughter for killing his wife. His moral blameworthiness, even when tempered for his Gladue circumstances, is very high. Denunciation is critical in condemning spousal violence, particularly the chronic threat to Indigenous women. While restorative sentences are important in many situations of an Indigenous victim and abuser, that is far less so in cases of murder or manslaughter.
In 2018, Jonathon Wood was convicted of manslaughter for killing his wife, Kathleen Wood, in their home community of St. Theresa Point First Nation, Manitoba. Both Mr. Wood and his wife are Indigenous persons who were raised, and lived in the isolated First Nation with a population of about 4,000 people, accessible only by air, boat or winter ice-road. They began their relationship in 2004 and were married in 2010. Mr. Wood intermittently assaulted Mrs. Wood since 2012. He was convicted of assaulting her four times. By this point, they had three children together, along with an older boy from Mrs. Wood’s prior relationship. These assaults followed a consistent pattern.
When Mr, Wood attacked Mrs. Wood in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he was on some form of bail or probation aimed at reducing the chance he would assault her again. When he ultimately assaulted and killed her, he was still bound by two Probation Orders which stipulated he was not to have contact with Mrs. Wood and imposed restrictions on him when drinking. Regardless of these Orders, Mr. Wood was charged again for assault and aggravated assault of several people, including Mrs. Wood, as well as four probation breaches. He was released on a Recognizance which included not to communicate with Mrs. Wood, and in part, allowed him to be arrested even if he was just in the area of St. Theresa Point.
Despite the court orders, and his promise to abide by them, Mr. Wood went to St. Theresa Point to see his family and Mrs. Wood. A party took place at Mr. Wood’s brother’s residence, and all were intoxicated. As the evening progressed, Mr. and Mrs. Wood got into an argument, which eventually led to Mr. Wood assaulting Mrs. Wood with his fists and feet, repeating the escalating pattern of the four prior convictions. The brother wanted to check on Mrs. Wood, who was then lying on the floor, but Mr. Wood told him to leave her alone, that she was just passed-out. Concerned, the brother went next door for help but returned moments later to Mrs. Wood no longer breathing.
Mrs. Wood’s injuries were awful. The autopsy revealed the true devastation. The forensic pathologist detailed many injuries including numerous bones broken, including her jaw, left clavicle, left wrist and all 24 ribs, 23 of which had multiple fractures. She also suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, full-thickness tongue laceration, contusions and lacerations of the lungs and diaphragm, and contusion of the liver. There was no evidence Mrs. Wood’s injuries were caused by anything other than Mr. Wood beating her at the party.
A pre-sentence and Gladue report was prepared for sentencing. Mr. Wood left school with very little education, and no employable skills. There is nothing to suggest Mr. Wood experienced any mental health concerns. Poverty, unemployment, lack of education and substance abuse were negative influences in Mr. Wood’s upbringing. During the course of his times in custody, Mr. Wood participated in many programs, including anger management, parenting skills and healthy relationships.
The vulnerability of a victim, particularly a woman in a domestic context, are well established aggravating factors on sentencing and ones which emphasize denunciation and deterrence (R v LP, 2020 QCCA 1239). Generally, spousal killings attract a higher sentence, and greater condemnation, than other types of manslaughter (s 718.2(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code). Mrs. Wood’s Indigenous status, and living in a community so under-serviced and isolated as St. Theresa Point First Nation, heightened her vulnerability to spousal violence (R v AD, 2019 ABCA 396). It is clear that this event was not only catastrophic for Mrs. Wood but also for her four teenage children.
The nature of the beating was merciless. His previous pattern of beating Mrs. Wood and resulting convictions, his sober defiance of court orders, and his willful disregard for placing her, his wife, in situations of grave danger, adds considerably to his blameworthiness. Denunciation is critical in condemning spousal violence, particularly the chronic threat to Indigenous women. There is the need to separate Mr. Wood from his community so he is no longer a threat to them.