close
close

She survived a knife attack by her ex-partner. He’s been sentenced, but her fears remain

WARNING: This story contains details of abuse and may affect those who have experienced intimate partner violence or know someone who has.

The first time Sabrina L’Heureux’s ex-partner came at her with a knife was in March 2020.

When he attacked her with a different blade a year and a half later, she managed to escape, bruised and bleeding, but with her child.

She then spent the next 12 months fearing for their lives while he remained at large.

On Wednesday, 47-year-old Paul John MacDonald of Kingston, Ont., was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for the two violent attacks and one year’s worth of harassment.

With credit for time served, he’s set to spend just over four and a half years behind bars — roughly the same amount of time that’s passed since L’Heureux’s life changed forever.

“That is so frustrating,” she said of the sentence during an interview Friday morning, adding she believes Canadian criminal law needs to better protect survivors of intimate partner violence.

“That nagging thought in the back of my head is always going to persist when he gets out,” she said. “Is he actually going to follow through with his threats from him and try to kill my family and I?”

A ‘living nightmare’

Court heard L’Heureux and MacDonald met in 2016 and later had a child together.

In a victim impact statement she read out Wednesday, L’Heureux said she was once a fearless free spirit and a “social butterfly.”

But the assaults, first in March 2020 and then on Sept. 4, 2021, left her terrified he would hurt her or her loved ones of her. The time was a “living nightmare” that still haunts her, she said.

What they’ve done doesn’t define us. Who we are defines us.– Sabrina L’Heureux

MacDonald was found guilty of nine charges in March.

Six were connected to the 2021 attack, including assault, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, possession of a knife for a dangerous purpose, uttering a death threat and stealing L’Heureux’s phone.

He was also convicted of threatening to use a weapon during the March 2020 assault and uttering death threats, as well as harassing L’Heureux via text messages between the two attacks.

In her statement, L’Heureux described installing locks and alarms at her home, carrying a panic button and suffering nightmares that left her too scared to even go to the bathroom at night.

“I have a constant reminder of what I survived in the form of scars all over my body that will never go away,” she said.

William L’Heureux, Sabrina’s father, also submitted a victim impact statement, in which he shared his pain at nearly losing her to someone he’d trusted to love, protect and keep her safe.

“Please don’t let him hurt someone else’s daughter,” his statement said.

Sabrina L’Heureux says the scars on her body after Paul John MacDonald attacked her with a knife serve as a reminder of what she’s survived.

Sabrina L’Heureux says the scars on her body after Paul John MacDonald attacked her with a knife serve as a reminder of what she’s survived. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Weapon, child were aggravating factors, says Crown

Assistant Crown attorney Greg Skerkowski said MacDonald should be sentenced to eight years, less time served, describing the 2021 incident as an “uncontrolled knife attack” against an intimate partner.

The Crown said the fact a weapon was used and a child was present were aggravating factors.

Skerkowski also pointed out MacDonald had not pleaded guilty or showed any indications of remorse.

“There’s no good reason… to believe that rehabilitation is something Mr. MacDonald has submitted to or is capable of,” he said.

Defense lawyer Cassandra Laperriere argued that three to four years, less pre-trial custody, would be more appropriate.

She provided documentation from her client’s time at the Central East Detention Centre, detailing how often he’d been in lockdown or triple-bunked with other inmates. The judge recognized those factors and cut another 60 days off MacDonald’s sentence.

“He does express his apologies for the strain this trial, this case, has put on his family and Ms. L’Heureux’s family and he wants everyone to be able to move forward,” Laperriere said.

Asked if he had anything he wanted to say, MacDonald declined.

Erin Lee is the executive director of Lanark County Interval House and Community Support, which offers services to women and their children impacted by intimate partner violence, including running a 15 bed shelter in the Ottawa Valley.

Erin Lee is the executive director of Lanark County Interval House and Community Support, which offers services to women and their children impacted by intimate partner violence — including a 15-bed shelter in the Ottawa Valley. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

While reading his decision, Justice Larry O’Brien described the messages MacDonald sent L’Heureux as “gut-wrenching, horrific threats.”

He also mentioned the slashes and blows she’d suffered.

“Some of these physical injuries go away a lot faster than the trauma goes away,” O’Brien said. “The trauma lingers and it changes you.”

Both the Crown and judge remarked on “eerie” similarities between what L’Heureux survived and a 2003 attack in Toronto that MacDonald was also involved with.

Court heard that he’d snuck into the apartment of another woman he’d previously been in a romantic relationship with and stabbed both her and a man she was with, leaving both severely injured.

‘The impact of trauma is lifelong’

L’Heureux said she believes the judge in her case did all he could, but MacDonald’s criminal history should have resulted in a longer sentence and he shouldn’t have received credit for time served.

KIngston Police issued this photo of Paul John MacDonald in a news release in September 2021. Police have asked for the public’s help to locate MacDonald, who’s wanted on six charges, including assault with a weapon and uttering death threats against his former partner, Sabrina L ‘Heureux.

Kingston Police issued this photo of Paul John MacDonald in a news release in September 2021. MacDonald was sentenced Wednesday during an appearance in Kingston’s Ontario Court of Justice. (Kingston Police)

Erin Lee, executive director at Lanark County Interval House, which provides support for women and children fleeing violence, said it’s common for survivors to feel frustrated by the judicial system.

A guilty verdict also doesn’t mean someone like L’Heureux gets their old life back, she added.

“Court doesn’t end and you feel like, ‘OK, I’ve experienced justice and now I can move on,'” Lee said. “It is years of supports, creating a circle of care, recognizing that trauma — and the impact of trauma — is lifelong.”

L’Heureux said she hopes speaking about what she’s survived can help other women in similar circumstances find strength.

“We can move on with our lives and we can be happy,” she said. “What they’ve done doesn’t define us. Who we are defines us.”