Update on the Pamela Jean George Case

2 February 2001
February 2, 2001

Cet article est disponible uniquement en anglais.

In the early morning hours of April 17, 1995, on the outskirts of Regina, Saskatchewan, Pamela Jean George was beaten to death by two young white men. One of the two men convicted of killing her recently received full parole on November 10, 2000. Once more, this case triggers outrage in Aboriginal and women’s communities, as it remains an example of the failure of the Canadian criminal justice system’s capacity to address crime based in racism and misogyny.

Pamela George was 28 years old, a member of the Saulteaux First Nation, and single mother of two children. Occasionally, she was a sex trade worker. On the night of her death, George was approached for a “date” by Steven Kummerfield. Unknown to George, Alex Ternowetsky was hiding in the trunk of Kummerfield’s car. Both men were drinking heavily.

The two men demanded oral sex from George, and then began beating her, but said they didn’t know why they struck her. Hours later she died of cerebral hemorrhaging.

The men were charged with first degree murder, committed in connection with sexual assault and forcible confinement. Two friends of the accused gave evidence that each accused had bragged of the killing, with Kummerfield quoted as stating “… she deserved it. She was an Indian.”

However, in December 1996, Kummerfield and Ternowetsky were convicted by jury of manslaughter, rather than murder, and sentenced to six and a half years each by Justice Ted Malone, with a delay placed on their ability to obtain parole as an extraordinary sanction.

Justice Malone instructed the jury to remember that George was “indeed a prostitute” when considering whether she consented to a sexual assault. His comments lead a coalition of Saskatchewan women’s groups, including NAC, to file a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council. Vigils were held for George across Canada in at least nine cities.

In 1998, Justice Malone’s decision was appealed by the Crown, on the grounds that the judge’s instruction to the jury amounted to a direction to acquit the accused of murder. The accused counter-appealed on sentence. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal held that the instruction to the jury was proper, but noted the Crown should have made its objection at the time of instruction. It declined to review the sentence.

Unfortunately, the Criminal Code hate crime sentencing provisions (Part XXIII of the Criminal Code,R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46) that came into force September 3, 1996, three months before the conviction and sentencing of the accused, were not applied or considered by either court in the George case.

Section 718.2 (1) (a) provides that a sentence should be increased to take into account relevant aggravating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender. The provisions state evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or other similar factors shall be deemed by the Court to be an aggravating circumstance. It is certainly arguable that if the aggravating factors of racism and misogyny were considered, the requisite intent to cause bodily harm likely to cause death may have been proven on the charge of murder, or in the alternative, the sanction imposed for George’s manslaughter would have been more substantial.
Cet article est disponible uniquement en anglais.

Kummerfield was granted parole after serving less than four years of his sentence. Tellingly, when considering him for parole, the Parole Board asked Kummerfield about his participation in a violent gay-bashing police had questioned him about prior to George’s death.

Diane Rowe is a member of the Saulteaux First Nation, Manitoba. She practices with White Ottenheimer & Baker, in St. John’s, NF, and is a Co-Coordinator of NAWL.

about NAWL
The National Association of Women and the Law is a not-for-profit feminist organization that promotes the equality rights of women through legal education, research and law reform advocacy.
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