SASKATOON — A woman accused of faking her death and that of her child before they crossed the border into the United States has been given a one-year conditional sentence that she can serve in the community.
Dawn Walker was also given 18 months probation and ordered to perform 300 hours of community service. She cannot have contact with her child without supervision and must stay in Saskatchewan.
Provincial court Judge Brad Mitchell accepted a joint recommendation for the sentence from Crown and defence lawyers after Walker pleaded guilty Thursday to three charges — two forgery offences and abduction in contravention of a custody or parenting order.
“I apologize to my friends and family for the pain and suffering that I have caused them,” Walker said in court Thursday.
Walker and her child were reported missing in July 2022, after her pickup truck was found near a river at a park south of Saskatoon.
Some people feared the pair drowned, and a vigil and searches were organized, which court heard cost more than $100,000.
Walker and her child were found two weeks later in Oregon City, Ore., by U.S. authorities.
Walker still faces two charges in the U.S. related to identity fraud for allegedly crossing the border with fake identification.
Mitchell said Walker's plan to flee with her child was well conceived, well organized and was carried out over several months. He said she caused "immense trauma" to family, friends and the public, who were extremely concerned about her well-being.
An agreed statement of facts entered into court said Walker and the child's father were in a relationship for about four years until 2018. Custody hearings were contentious, it said, but they entered into a shared parenting arrangement in 2021.
Shortly after, Walker applied for a job in Ontario, but an application to bring the child was later denied.
The statement said Walker started taking actions to get false identification in March 2022.
The judge said that while Walker has spent much of her life advocating for Indigenous women, she took advantage of two Indigenous women to forge the identity documents. Victim impact statements from the women read into court said they felt betrayed and hurt.
"She has also shown remorse," Mitchell said.
Walker is an acclaimed author and also worked for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. She told court Thursday that she was hurt knowing she may have caused pain to an Indigenous community that has already suffered.
She said it was her “sacred duty” to protect her child's innocence. However, she said she’s not proud of how she carried out that duty, calling it a lapse of judgment.
“I am truly sorry for my actions.”
Walker declined to speak with media as she left the courthouse with family members.
After she was returned to Canada, Walker's lawyers and relatives alleged she was a victim of domestic violence. However, the child’s father said he would never hurt her or the child.
He told court Thursday that he was devastated when he first learned Walker's truck was found by the river. But, he said police advised him not to search for the child in the area because they were concerned for his safety. He said it left him feeling helpless.
“To hear that people thought that I was somehow involved … was incredibly hurtful," the father said in a victim impact statement.
He said his address was posted online and he feared for the safety of his family. The father also said his child has been traumatized by the experience.
"I think (the child) is the biggest victim in all of this," the father said.
Defence lawyer Marie Henein said outside court that her client loves her child and the case reflects how Indigenous women are treated in Canada and, specifically, in Saskatchewan.
“What we need to be asking ourselves is, when is it going to occur to this government, the federal government and the Saskatchewan government, that something has to be done about the way the Indigenous community is dealt with?” she said.
Prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said the Crown considers systemic issues affecting Indigenous offenders, but it does not agree Walker was a victim of her former spouse or that their child was in any danger.
Olenchuk told reporters that the community service hours provide a way for Walker to give back to people who rallied around her when they believed she was missing.
The sentence also sends a message that people can't take the law into their own hands if they're unhappy about decisions in family court, said the prosecutor.
“It is important for people to understand that abusing positions of trust and not going through the proper legal proceedings cannot be condoned."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2023.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press