MONTREAL — A court has awarded a Quebec woman who was violently attacked by her longtime partner $315,000 in damages in a decision her lawyer hopes will provide victims of domestic violence another avenue to obtain justice.
The woman, whose identity is not revealed in the court documents, testified that the attack took place while she was confined for three days in September 2012.
Court documents says she was beaten and bruised by Craig O’Brien, with whom she had been in a common law relationship for seven years — a union that became increasingly toxic over time.
O’Brien testified that he was extremely intoxicated and could not remember the extent of the injuries he inflicted, which included a broken finger, multiple contusions and lacerations. He also prevented her from eating, and she testified that she was certain she was going to die.
She managed to escape when O’Brien went on the balcony to smoke, and she called police in the Montreal suburb of Laval.
He pleaded guilty to charges including unlawful confinement, assault and aggravated assault. He was sentenced by a Quebec court judge to eight months in jail, serving just a few months.
In 2015, the woman decided to sue for damages in Quebec Superior Court.
“She was outraged that after everything that had been done to her, this fellow would only spend three months in jail,” said lawyer Daniel Romano. “She wanted justice. She wanted to be compensated for what she’d actually lost, and she wanted to serve as an example to other women.”
In a decision dated Nov. 20, Justice Pierre Journet agreed she was entitled to compensation.
While she’s now gone through counselling and has began rebuilding her life, the court ruling described the lasting psychological impact of the hold he had on her.
The judge noted in his ruling O’Brien did not express remorse and instead argued his partner could have left if she had been fearful.
“All of the violent assaults during these days left her with post-traumatic stress that still affects her,” Journet wrote.
“He controlled her, satisfied his war-like instincts on her, threatened her with reprisals during their life together and wounded her in a savage and unforgivable assault.”
Louise Riendeau, who heads an organization that represents shelters for abused women, said cases awarding damages are rare — she’s only heard of a handful in recent years.
Not all women will have the resources to go to court, she said, but the ruling sends a strong message.
“It’s a way for them to have recognized the hardship they went through,” she said. “It’s a way for women to retake power in those instances, to have the sentiment that they were victimized.”
The damages include $113,000 plus interest to compensate for lost salary, dental benefits, pension contributions and to reimburse credit card debt from a card she’d let him use.
O’Brien is ordered to pay an additional $125,000 in damages and $75,000 in punitive damages — $25,000 for each day she was unlawfully confined.
“In this case, we wanted to set a very, very clear precedent,” Romano said. “We’ve accomplished that, it’s a very positive step forward.”
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press