Sentencing hearing held for Whitehorse woman who killed Greg Dawson

·4 min read
Greg Dawson, a 45-year-old Ta'an Kwäch'än citizen, was killed by Connie Peggy Thorn in their Riverdale apartment in 2017. Family members remember him as a kind and gentle man who liked to make people smile.  (Ta'an Kwach'an Council - image credit)
Greg Dawson, a 45-year-old Ta'an Kwäch'än citizen, was killed by Connie Peggy Thorn in their Riverdale apartment in 2017. Family members remember him as a kind and gentle man who liked to make people smile. (Ta'an Kwach'an Council - image credit)

A sentencing hearing for a Whitehorse woman who killed Greg Dawson in 2017 was held April 19, with both the Crown and defence asking that she be sent to a federal penitentiary.

How much time she actually spends there, though, is at dispute.

Connie Peggy Thorn pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year for beating Dawson to death, although an agreed statement of facts said she didn't remember what happened because she was too intoxicated at the time.

Dawson remembered as kind, gentle

Dawson, a 45-year-old Ta'an Kwäch'än citizen with close ties to Kwanlin Dün First Nation, was found dead in a Riverdale basement apartment he shared with Thorn in April 2017.

In victim impact statements, Dawson's relatives remembered him as a kind and gentle man and great artist who, despite having a hard life, still loved to help people and make them smile.

His cousin, Shirley Dawson recalled growing up with him in the Old Village in Whitehorse, describing him as more of a brother.

"We did everything together," she told the court. "I was there in his good times, as well as his hard times. Life was not easy for Greg but he made the most of what he was dealt with."

Two more cousins, Mary and Jessie Dawson, said he was a caring person who liked to joke and who embraced the fact that he was born on Canada Day.

"He used to say, 'Cuz, how many people do you know that get to party with all of Canada? Me!'" they recalled in their statement. "And then he would chuckle."

A community impact statement also read to the court said that the impact of Greg Dawson's death went well beyond his family. Many people felt shock, grief, anger, fear and guilt over the fact that a well-liked and vulnerable member of the community was killed — feelings that were compounded when a double-homicide happened a week later.

A number of KDFN employees had to take days or weeks off to grieve, the statement said, and community members also reported an increase in substance abuse and associated issues like hospital visits and crime.

Crown seeking longer sentence

Crown attorney Noel Sinclair and defence lawyer Greg Johannson both told Yukon Supreme Court Justice Edith Campbell that Thorn wanted to be sent to an institution outside of the territory for her sentence, where she would be able to access more rehabilitative programming.

However, Sinclair argued a five-year sentence would be most appropriate, while Johannson said four years and four months would suffice.

After credit for the time she's already spent in jail, the defence's proposed sentence would mean Thorn would serve two more years plus a day — the minimum amount of time required to send someone outside the territory — while the Crown's would see her in prison for a few months longer.

Sinclair argued that Thorn's criminal record includes a number of assault convictions but that she denies wrongdoing in any of the cases, casting doubt on her remorse and ability to take responsibility for her actions.

According to a pre-sentencing report, Thorn also describes herself as a "nonviolent person" who doesn't get into conflict, something Sinclair said was a "grossly, overly-optimistic perception of herself."

While Thorn has had access to "program after program after program," Sinclair argued that she continued to return to "drinking and violence" and is someone who needs a large amount of supervision.

Thorn 'a victim herself,' defence says

Johannson, meanwhile, argued Thorn was "ultimately someone who has potential" to be rehabilitated, noting that she is only violent when alcohol is in the picture and had refrained from drinking for 13 years prior to moving to the Yukon.

She has career aspirations and has done education and training to improve herself, he noted, and wants to continue that work.

Johannson also pointed to a number of Gladue factors in Thorn's case, saying that she "has very much been a victim herself" at the hands of her own family members and, more widely, the lasting impact of Canada's residential schools.

'Not the same person' as in 2017

Thorn read a statement to the court at the end of the day, saying that she's "searched my heart and mind every day for why I would commit such a horrific act," and that while she wishes she could give Dawson's family an answer, she didn't have one.

She described Dawson as a "wonderful friend" who was "there for me when others were not," and said that while she couldn't change the past or bring Dawson back, she could try to learn from her mistakes and lead a healthy, productive life.

"I can vouch for myself," she said. "I am not the same person I was in 2017."

Campbell reserved her decision and will sentence Thorn at a later date.