Mainland jail said to be too isolating for woman who stole $202,993

A provincial court judge declined to send a Vancouver Island woman to jail on the Lower Mainland, saying that cutting her off from the love and support of family would lessen her chances of rehabilitation.

“Every day would be excruciating punishment for Ms. Ernestine Elliott above and beyond that which would be faced by any male sentenced to jail or any female sentenced in the Lower Mainland,” Judge Adrian Brooks said at her sentencing hearing in Duncan on Sept. 30.

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Earlier this year, three provincial court judges called the lack of a correctional or remand facility for women on Vancouver Island shameful and discriminatory. Women who receive a jail sentence are flown out of their communities to the Alouette Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

The government says the small number of women affected does not justify the expense for a Vancouver Island facility.

Elliott was convicted of stealing $202,993 from the Cowichan Tribes Salmon Enhancement Program, where she worked as a bookkeeper from May 2004 to June 2007. Over three years, she wrote 253 cheques to herself, forging the signatures of others. The thefts were discovered during the annual audit in July 2007. Elliott was relieved of her duties.

In Elliott’s case, Brooks said, the lack of a jail for women on the Island is a significant factor in determining an appropriate sentence.

“If jailed, she would be taken from where she has lived virtually all her life to a place where it would be extremely difficult for her family to visit her,” Brooks said. “She would be denied the motivation to rehabilitation which comes from the love and support of family.”

At her sentencing hearing, the court heard that Elliott, 46, had a traumatic upbringing. She watched her mother being beaten by her father. She was physically and sexually abused from age five by family members and caregivers. Her parents and older siblings are survivors of the residential school on Kuper Island.

Elliott completed Grade 12 and obtained a certificate in computerized business. When she married 19 years ago, she became a member of the Cowichan Tribes. Her husband is a manager at the hatchery. She has a teenage daughter and son.

Brooks found her position of trust as a bookkeeper to be an aggravating factor at sentencing.

“Year after year, she took very significant amounts of money. She then devoted time and thought to covering her tracks by the use of false entries and the destruction of documentation. The ongoing indifference to those around her which those acts show is staggering,” Brooks said.

Elliott’s lack of criminal record is a mitigating factor, he found.

The Crown and defence agreed a jail sentence was necessary. Crown asked for a jail sentence of eight to 12 months. The defence asked that the sentence be served in the community.

In the end, Brooks imposed a conditional sentence of 18 months, followed by two years probation.

Elliott was also ordered to make restitution of $23,290 to the Cowichan Tribes, followed by restitution of $201,993 to the Zurich Insurance Company.

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