The Ulukhaktok woman admitted to sending sexually explicit texts and Facebook messages to an underage girl, pleading guilty to an offence that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three months in jail.
Her lawyer says the sentence would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for his client, a young victim of abuse herself, who lives in the small and tightly-knit Northern community.
Rhea Alikamik, 22, pleaded guilty to one count of invitation to sexual touching in December.
Anyone who “invites, counsels or incites a person under the age of 16 years,” to sexual touching is guilty of the offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
In January of last year, Alikamik and the victim exchanged multiple text and social media messages — initiated by the victim — with the offender inviting the girl to engage in sex acts.
On Jan. 24, 2018, they arranged to meet at the victim’s house, but Alikamik ended up calling it off.
The next day, police received a complaint about Alikamik’s activity.
Alikamik confessed to police after being arrested, telling RCMP she asked the young girl for sex, knowing she was underage.
Alikamik told police she asked the victim to send sexually explicit photos to her, too.
Alikamik was 20-years-old when the offence was committed.
While the 90-day jail term the offence carries isn’t an exceptionally long sentence, Alikamik’s lawyer Paul Falvo said the prospect of being sent away to jail presents troublesome consequences for his client.
Falvo, arguing the mandatory minimum sentence should be tossed in Alikamik’s case on the grounds it infringes on her charter-protected right, asked Judge Robert Gorin to consider the impact incarceration would have on the 22-year-old, during a hearing in NWT territorial court on April 17.
Alikamik was not present in the courtroom.
“Everyone” in her home community would know if she’s sent away to jail, said Falvo, adding Alikamik could be “remembered for that,” making it harder for her to recover after serving her sentence.
Instead of a jail term, Falvo proposed a sentence, served under house arrest in the community, that would focus on rehabilitating Alikamik. The Crown is opposing the challenge, arguing the mandatory term should be upheld.
‘It’s a terrible cycle’
Falvo noted the many Gladue factors at play in Alikamik’s life and upbringing, telling the court she is a victim of past abuse herself.
“It’s a terrible cycle,” said Falvo. “She’s as much a victim as she is a participant in this cycle.”
Given “the legacy that was handed to her,” Falvo argued it’s not appropriate to send Alikamik to jail.
Falvo said it’s not the burden of Alikamik to break a cycle she didn’t start.
Successfully challenging a mandatory minimum sentence on the grounds it violates a person’s right to be free from “any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment,” as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is no easy task.
First, a judge must determine what a fit and proportionate sentence is for the offence in question. Then, a judge must decide whether or not the mandatory minimum sentence they’re bound to impose is grossly disproportionate to that fit and proportionate sentence.
Before he can start that process, Judge Gorin told Falvo he needs further submissions from the defence lawyer, which will be followed by a response from prosecutors.
Falvo will further make his case against the mandatory minimum sentence on May 8 in Ulukhaktok, when Alikamik’s matter is set for sentencing.