A Pictou County woman who cares for her three grandchildren has been sentenced to a month in jail for hurling racial insults at a doctor’s wife and assaulting her, as well as attacking the victim’s rescuer.
Justice Ted Scanlan of Nova Scotia Supreme Court said in a written decision released Tuesday this was one of the most difficult sentencings of his 20 years on the bench. “I have sentenced people for murder, assault, robbery, drugs, you name it. This case stands out,” Scanlan said.
The incident happened in the mall on Westville Road in New Glasgow on May 29, 2011. A drunken Katherine Feltmate, 51, confronted Alizah Khan, asking her why she was wearing a head scarf on a hot day. Khan asked her why she was commenting on what she was wearing when others were wearing sweaters, coats or jackets.
Feltmate then hurled racial and religious slurs at Khan, forced her against a wall, raised her hands and pushed a shopping cart around. Brian Anthony Jarvis came to Khan’s aid, and Feltmate turned on him and accused him of being racist.
“This country would be a better country – a stronger country – if all Canadians stood up for the rights of those who are being oppressed, as Mr. Jarvis did in this case,” Scanlan said.
Khan is from Illinois and of Pakistani heritage.
Scanlan said she was confronted, insulted and assaulted “for no reason other than wearing a scarf around her head, and because of the colour of her skin.” Such racially motivated crimes indicate a lack of respect, he said.
“Multiculturalism is not just a word. It’s a philosophy which speaks to the obligation that each Canadian has to respect the dignity, privacy and integrity of all fellow citizens in this country. Respect, respect. That’s what it’s all about. Respect which allows all Canadians to choose a specific religion, to pray to a specific God, to wear a hijab, to wear a scarf on your head, to wear a long dress, to wear a short dress.”
Canadians respect one another, regardless of ethnic or religious background, Scanlan said. “This is because a Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian, no matter what their vintage, religion or attire. Colour, race, religion, heritage does not make any one citizen of this country more or less of a Canadian. It is indeed the cultural and the religious diversity of this country that adds to its richness. It is part of what makes us Canadians, and makes most of us proud to say that we are Canadians.”
Khan wasn’t the only victim that day, he said. “Everybody else that was in that shopping mall saw what happened, and this community, this province, this country is worse off for this incident having happened.”
Khan said in a victim impact statement that because of what happened to her, she doesn’t trust anyone unless she has known them for years. “I don’t feel safe here,” she said, adding that she is scared to take her two children out alone. She said she can’t stay home alone at night when her husband is out helping people in the community, “probably saving lives,” Scanlan wrote.
Prosecutor William Gorman asked for a jail term of seven to nine months, but Scanlan said he took into account Feltmate’s age, the fact she has no criminal record, that she was drunk at the time and that she pleaded guilty. If not for those factors, Scanlan said he may well have sentenced Feltmate to the jail term requested.
In addition to a month in jail, he sentenced Feltmate to a day in jail for assaulting Jarvis, which was served by her appearance in court, and to 12 months’ probation upon her release. She must also get any counselling her probation officer deems fit, is banned from owning a firearm for three years and must submit a sample of her DNA to the national data bank.
See also National Post, 14 September 2012