If your shoulders drooped a little at news this week that a Kelowna man only received a conditional sentence after punching his wife 10 times in the head in front of his children and threatening to shoot himself to scare her, you’re probably not alone.
Go down to the Kelowna courthouse on any given day and you’ll find a string of women who know all too well that when an assault is couched within the context of an existing spousal relationship, our society does not take it as seriously as if two strangers were to meet on the street.
If it did, the court lists would not be full of domestic cases, women’s shelters wouldn’t scramble for funding and a domestic assault case that doesn’t result in a murder would be a normal staple in the news rather than a rarity, as it was in this case.
But as Justice Vincent Hogan amply spelled out, the law and the people who create it, interpret it and report on it do not take committed spouses fighting anywhere near as seriously as perfect strangers.
This seems odd. Having made a legal commitment to support and care for one’s spouse, after all, one would think it would be the other way around.
And one would certainly not expect that there was some good deeds versus bad deeds ledger out there, as the judge stated, that could allow a husband and father to knock in a few blows for free with a little voluntary commitment to the community.
If, for example, a well-behaved, law-abiding cop who has dedicated his life to serving his community were to go into the general public and punch some other person 10 times in the head—or say, kick them while they’re down in the course of their regular work duties—public outcry would be unprecedented.
News reporters would be glued to the case like flies to honey, the RCMP would be making public apologies—you catch my drift.
But in this case, not only are Staff Sergeant Owen Wlodarczak’s actions going largely unnoticed by the media and general public, the courts have basically waved the incident off, saying the officer’s previous record as an exemplary community member outweighs his wife’s right to expect her assailant to see punishment.
Unfortunately, the main victim in this case, the wife, unwittingly seems to be going along. Pointing the finger squarely at the RCMP for failing to help the officer cope with the stress of his job effectively enough to avoid degenerating into abuse, her comments had reporters chasing down the RCMP officer-does-wrong/RCMP poorly managed angle all week, completely missing the point.
The point is: A man took his children into a room with his wife, punched her in the head repeatedly telling them it was her fault he was this angry, then pulled out a gun and threatened to kill himself because she filed for sole custody.
This is about as violent as violence gets without a murder. Giving the officer the benefit of the doubt, it’s very possible he is suffering from a mental illness, though clearly not insane enough to not have known what he was doing, otherwise there would have been a different plea in the case. One could debate the merits of news reporters beating the cop-done-wrong story to death until one is blue in the face, but in this case it seems to have obfuscated a simple, scary truth.
Cop or no cop, in this community a man was allowed to punch his wife in the face 10 times, use a gun to make threats in front of his children, and walk away from the incident without jail time and likely without a criminal record.
If I was one of the many women whose case is in the court queue, who unfortunately basic math seems to suggest is very much a possibility before my lifetime is out, I don’t think the uniform or the voluntary commitment to serve and protect or the court’s explanation or the media’s reaction would make much difference.
I’m pretty sure I’d just be walking away with the realization that any person off the street has more rights in my relationship than I do. That makes even less sense than Staff Sergeant Owen Wlodarczak’s sentence.