On the morning of August 22, Whapmagoostui police were called to 30 Whapmac Street to investigate the possibility of a domestic-violence dispute. After a forced entry into the home, police discovered a woman and child who were not breathing, a severely injured second child and a man who had also sustained injuries.
Three of the people have since died of apparent knife-related injuries – Minnie Natachequan, 37, and her sons Peter, 8, and Dawson, 6. The fourth individual was identified as 35-year-old Peter Tooktoo, Natachequan’s ex-husband and father of the boys.
According to Brian Jones of the Whapmagoostui police force who was at the scene of the crime, Tooktoo had a history of violence against his ex-wife. Despite this, at the time of the alleged murder there was no restraining order against Tooktoo because, according to Jones, Natachequan had withdrawn her previous complaint and request for protection.
“He had (previously) gone to jail and he was not allowed to come to the community of Whapmagoostui. He had to stay in Umiujaq about a 45-minute flight from here,” said Jones.
Tooktoo was brought to hospital immediately following the incident and then off to the courthouse in Amos where he was charged. Though Tooktoo has yet to enter a plea, he is expected to do so when he appears before a judge in Kuujjuarapik on October 6.
A week later a memorial service was held at the arena in Whapmagoostui to lay Natachequan and her two sons to rest amid an outcry of emotion. Members of the entire community lined the rows including members of the Grand Council, local police and many of Natachequan’s friends from the firehouse where she had been a volunteer firefighter.
Sharing his condolences with The Nation, Gordon Snowboy, the local Fire Chief, remembers Natachequan fondly. Though Natachequan worked as a full-time daycare educator, she devoted whatever free time she had to the fire squad.
“She did a lot of good service for us for over six years,” said Snowboy. “She was a first responder, a firefighter, a mother, a sister and a daughter. I knew her well. She was a happy person who always wanted to make people laugh. She used to make us laugh and she would always tell people to be strong.”
Despite her sunny disposition, Natachequan was suffering in silence. Snowboy spoke of how after Natachequan’s death, he found some of her notes that dated back to a training she had done for the fire station back in 2004.
“She was tired of not being happy, tired of being sad and tired of being tired. Those were the three sentences I found on her note pad,” said Snowboy.
Reverend Tom Martin of St. Edmond’s Anglican Church in Whapmagoostui, who performed the Natachequan’s funeral service, said that “this never should have happened,” and that those were the words he began the service with.
Having known both the Natachequan and Tooktoo families very well, Martin was both shocked and dismayed by the tragedy, particularly as Natachequan’s struggles with Tooktoo had been ongoing.
Martin had even encountered Natachequan and her two children hiding out in a nearby women’s shelter on a Saturday morning just two weeks before the incident. Yet the next day the whole family was together in church for Sunday service.
For as much as Natachequan herself may have withdrawn her complaints against Tooktoo, Martin felt that the behaviour was symptomatic of the domestic violence she was living through and that perhaps something else needed to be done.
“It is my understanding that there have been a number of attempts to have this man restrained in one way or another but the Crown said that they didn’t see that there was a need to take the man away from the community,” said Martin.
Martin, who had at one time counseled Tooktoo, said that his history of violence extended beyond Natachequan.
In retrospect, Martin wonders why the Crown did not do more to keep Tooktoo off the streets or at least alert the public to his crimes against society.
Whapmagoostui Chief Losty Mamianskum is also on the same page with Martin, expressing frustration with a legal system that in his opinion should have done more.
“I think that what this case highlights is the deficiencies in the services delivered to the people up here in the North,” said Mamianskum.
According to Mamianskum, not only are the services available to the victims of domestic violence insufficient, so are criminal justice services as the communities are without justices of the paece and the interim court only comes to town once every seven weeks.
“Many people believe that it is not enough and that maybe its not enough time for the lawyers or the Crown to familiarize themselves with the situation because they have to process so many cases in a week’s time or even three or four days,” said Mamianskum.
In the wake of this tragedy, Mamianskum is looking to see prevention campaigns against family violence stepped up and sweeping changes made to the legal system.