Fear in for-profit Newfoundland shelter stoked fight that led to woman's death: judge

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A young man who fatally stabbed a woman during a fight inside a for-profit shelter in Newfoundland and Labrador was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for manslaughter on Tuesday.

Provincial Supreme Court Judge Vikas Khaladkar said Rayna Dove and David Quirke, who was 20 when he killed Dove on Dec. 27, 2021, had both told their families they felt unsafe at the downtown St. John's shelter where they lived.

That fear may have led to their altercation, Khaladkar said.

“They were afraid of their living situation, afraid of where they found themselves, afraid of the people they were living with,” the judge told the courtroom.

Dove's mother, Joan Dunphy, was distraught as she left the courtroom after the hearing.

“My daughter is gone, and he’s just going to go somewhere and sit and be fed, and we’re going to pay for that, and then he’ll go home to his mother,” she said to reporters about Quirke.

Dove and Quirke’s fight began over a butter knife, which Khaladkar said could be used to lock rooms at the shelter. Dove refused to return the knife, which prompted Quirke to bang on the wall between their rooms. Dove then went into Quirke’s room and attacked him. He grabbed her by her hair and head and got her out into the hallway, and then went back into his room and grabbed another knife, the judge said. When Dove went back into Quirke’s room, he stabbed her three times in the abdomen.

Quirke immediately called 911, which the judge said reflected well on him. However, he did not follow the instructions of the 911 operator to find something to hold against her wound.

Had he done that he could have saved her life, Khaladkar said.

A recording of the call was played for the court during a hearing in May. Dove can be heard yelling in the background as Quirke talks to the 911 operator. At one point, he tells the operator he believes Dove is dying.

Dove was 42 and the mother of two sons.

Khaladkar said Quirke showed genuine remorse, noting that he wept when the 911 call was played in court. He also apologized to Dove's family after they read their victim impact statements.

Quirke had no criminal record and suffered from various mental health issues. Khaladkar said he believed Quirke would benefit from counselling, which the judge said he would likely get in prison.

"He is still a young man, one who will bear the stigma of a manslaughter conviction for the rest of his life," Khaladkar said.

In her victim impact statement, Dunphy said her daughter was “living in fear” at the shelter, or boarding house, in St. John's. Her daughter had kept careful notes in a journal about how unsafe she felt, and about all the officials whom she had asked for a transfer, Dunphy said in her statement.

"These journal notes show how hard she was trying. But was anybody listening?" Dunphy asked. Dove, she said, "deserved so much more."

According to a survey of the provinces in October, Newfoundland and Labrador is among the only ones to contract private landlords to provide emergency shelter for homeless people. The government of Ontario could not provide clear confirmation.

Marc Budgell, a spokesperson for Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Housing, said non-profit shelters are prioritized.

"Private and unstaffed shelters are our last resort when other options are unavailable, either due to capacity issues or because of individual circumstances," he said in an emailed statement.

The department is expecting "in the coming weeks" a third-party report outlining standards the private shelters will have to meet, he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2024.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press