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Mother angry after scary encounter downtown
She wants action against sexual assaults in Yellowknife

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cheryl Fountain is beginning to wonder where she can feel safe in Yellowknife.

NNSL photo/graphic

Cheryl Fountain and her 12-year-old daughter were accosted by an intoxicated man outside Northern United Place on Saturday evening. She says more needs to be done to make women in Yellowknife feel safe. - Daniel Campbell/NNSL photo

As Fountain and her 12-year-old daughter walked out of Northern United Place on Saturday around 6 p.m., a man sitting on a bench nearby shouted at them and began to approach.

They made their way down to Fountain's car, trying to ignore the man.

But the man kept following them. When Fountain finally made it to her car, the man became more aggressive. Her daughter called police when she got inside. Meanwhile, the man grabbed his crotch and began running at her, saying, "You love it, I will get a licence for you," Fountain recalled.

"I'm so glad I got in the car in time," she said. "I know he was trying to get something from me."

Fountain thinks if she hadn't escaped, the man would have sexually assaulted her. She drove away before police arrived.

"It was too close," she said

Fountain said she was shocked at the boldness of the attack. It happened in broad daylight in a wide-open, seemingly docile downtown neighbourhood in Yellowknife.

The last two sexual assaults reported by Yellowknife RCMP occurred on the McMahon Frame Lake Trail and in Sissons Court. Fountain said people might make excuses for those assaults, noting the trail's remoteness or the public-housing status of Sissons Court.

The City of Yellowknife has been trying to improve safety measures along the trail since the assault there in July. Last week it began clearing bushes along the pathways. RCMP have also stepped up patrols in the area. Council is debating whether to deploy bylaw officers to patrol the trail on foot.

She said the community needs to do more to prevent sexual assaults everywhere in the city.

"Clearing brush on the (McMahon Frame Lake) Trail isn't going to help if it happened here," Fountain said, gesturing down 54 Street.

She said women are being told to avoid many areas in the city now, like trails, malls and certain areas of downtown.

"It's not about where can't you go now, it's about where can you go."

Far too often assaults and sexual assaults are chalked up to public intoxication and alcohol issues, Fountain said.

"This man was very intoxicated, but he was also very intentional," Fountain said of her abuser.

Feeling helpless against these types of assaults, Fountain wants some options available for help next time.

"I don't think women should fear because there's a couple of bad guys running around," she said.

"I want people with that type of behaviour to be fearful of walking around like that."

After doing some research, Fountain figures her best option is to carry bear or dog spray. Mace, or "pepper-spray" is a prohibited weapon under the Criminal Code, but bear and dog sprays aren't. Using them against people, however, can be classified as assault.

"And I am going to get some $500,000 fine and jail time for protecting myself," Fountain said, noting a potential sentence for using pepper-spray against a person.

The Criminal Code states the minimum imprisonment time for a sexual assault against a minor is three months, although there is no minimum sentence for sexual assault against an adult. The maximum sentence for any sexual assault is life in prison. Fountain said the sentences being handed out in Yellowknife against sexual offenders are too light, perhaps even lighter than what she would face for defending herself with mace.

She wants the city to provide self-defence training for women.

"We need something to help us feel better and safer," she said. "If we were men this would never happen to us."

Fountain has contacted her MLA and city councillors about the issue and she hopes the community will do more to address it.

The RCMP have not confirmed whether or not they have a suspect in custody, but Fountain said she has been told by police she'll have to identify a suspect in a photo lineup shortly.

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