Circumstances surrounding the death of Tracy (Two Feathers) Charters in a Merritt domestic dispute two years were recounted in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday during a sentencing hearing.
Janice Nielsen, Charter’s spouse, pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to manslaughter shortly after the start of her trial for second-degree murder. Her sentencing hearing is expected to wrap up Tuesday.
Crown prosecutor Neal Flanagan told Justice Ronald McKinnon that Nielsen was upset after learning that Charters was involved with another woman.
The couple had a history of drinking and domestic disputes to the point where Merritt RCMP officers knew them on a first-name basis. Charters was ordered by a Kamloops judge in 2008 to stay away from Nielsen if they had been drinking after he pleaded guilty to assaulting her.
On May 21, 2010, Charters had been drinking but Nielsen said she was sober. After learning of Charter’s involvement with another woman, Nielsen took a knife and cut up some of his clothing, Flanagan told the court. She also started banging on the ceiling of their home with her cane and yelling at Charters to leave the residence.
In response, Charters went downstairs and confronted Nielsen. He grabbed her hair, pushed her against a wall and struck her twice on the back of her head, Nielsen later recalled.
Next, according to testimony given by one of Nielsen’s daughters, the mother of two grabbed the knife and stabbed Charters in the head and chest. The altercation lasted little more than a minute, Flanagan said.
“The reason this happened was that Ms. Nielsen was angry,” Flanagan said, describing her actions as provocative behaviour. “It was a result of her being angry that she created the circumstances in which the offence was committed.”
Victoria Desroches, Nielsen’s defence lawyer, recounted Nielsen’s family history, dating back to the early 1970s when, as a girl, she was taken into foster care with her older sister.
Nielsen and her sister suffered abuse in one foster home. After reconnecting with her birth family Janice Nielsen later suffered abuse at the hands of extended family members, several of whom were convicted and sentenced for the crimes. As an adult, she had a history of abusive relationships with men who were many years her senior.
Desroches also brought a character witness to court Monday. Shari Slevin, a representative of Vision Quest Recovery Society, which operates facilities including the one where Nielsen has been residing, told the court that Nielsen is an exemplary client who serves as a role model for others.
“Her growth has been huge,” Slevin said.
Nielsen had other support as well.
Three young women, all wearing sweatshirts declaring themselves from the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, attended the sentencing hearing.
Summer-Rain Bentham said the group made the trip in support of Nielsen and in protest of the province’s failure to respond adequately to the violence committed against her. They lend support to women in such cases.
“It’s very rare you actually see a woman charged,” she said.
Bentham said there were multiple levels in the system, dating back several years prior to the death of Charters, where the state could have intervened but let her down instead.