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Helen Naslund: ACWS Calls on Justice System to Make Amends to Survivor of Three Decades of Violence

June 24, 2021

Helen Naslund, a 56-year-old mother, grandmother, and survivor of domestic violence, was sentenced in October of 2020 to 18 years in prison for killing her abuser and husband, Miles Naslund, on their farm near Holden, Alberta. It’s a draconian sentence that legal experts have called unprecedented, and it is now in appeal in Alberta’s highest court, where Naslund’s lawyer is requesting a sentence reduction. 

Jan Reimer, Executive Director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, wrote a letter of support that was entered into the record for Naslund’s appeal, stating that, “For 30 years, society failed to provide Helen Naslund with a basic human right, her right to safety, and now we see her being incarcerated for 18 years. We support Helen Naslund’s appeal and call upon the justice system to make amends to Helen Naslund and for the historical injustices they have perpetrated upon abused women for decades.” 

Advocates for Ms. Naslund include over 23,000 people who signed a petition started by the author of the blog, Women Who Choose to Live, as well as letters from women-serving organizations across the country, including many sheltering organizations, the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, and sexual assault centres. The resounding cry is that not only is Naslund’s sentence unjust, but it also represents a dangerous precedent that could be used against other survivors.

Women’s shelters have decades of experience in responding to domestic violence using validated tools and data-informed practices. Shelter workers can provide invaluable insight into the realities of domestic violence and have a critical role in educating legal professionals about this issue. Courtrooms need their trauma and oppression-informed perspective as part of judges’ and lawyers’ ongoing education to respond to cases involving domestic violence appropriately. 

What follows are the powerful words of one of the letter writers who spoke out in support of Ms. Naslund: Nora-Lee Rear is the Executive Director of the Camrose Women’s Shelter. The following is a copy of her letter of support sent to the courts as part of Naslund’s appeal. ACWS will continue to watch this case as it develops. 


To Whom It May Concern, 

As one of the closest shelters serving victims of gender based violence to Holden, Alberta, the Camrose Women’s Shelter is all too familiar with constant lack of recognition of the systemic barriers set to victim blame and demean women’s right to safety within their own home. 

For over 35 years the Camrose Women’s Shelter has been providing safe havens for victims of violence and remains the safest place for a women and children to be in the face of brutal violence. Our staff are experts in assessing the likelihood that a women will be killed by her abusive partner through using the Danger Assessment and helping women create safety plans in order to navigate normal daily activities. 

The thing is… why do women have to be the ones who continue to create safety plans for their normal daily activities. Why is it that in rural Alberta, where resources are scarce and police services provide 2 officers per department for several 1000 people, do we expect women’s safety to depend on “how fast she can run through the pasture”, (an example provided by a local rural Victims Advocate). In the many conversations I’ve had about the case of Helen Naslund over the last year and a half I have heard about the atrocity of a women killing her husband, but not once have I heard about the atrocity of abuse that Helen Naslund lived with for 30 years before deciding that her only choice left to survive was to kill her oppressor. 

If the tables had been turned and Helen Naslund had been killed by her husband after 30 years of abuse, research shows that there is an ‘intimacy discount’ in our courts when it comes to how intimate partner femicide and homicide is sanctioned. This discount largely benefits males when they kill their female partners because we know that this is most often the gender dynamic in these killings. Hence, by way of deduction we know that if this case had been reversed, Helen’s husband would not be sentenced to anywhere near 18 years in jail for killing her, or for the 30 years of abuse at his hands before that. 

Isn’t it time for more education and training for the legal profession on the dynamics of abuse, as well as a requirement for anyone involved in the legal system, whether police, lawyers or judges. Even better if this training can be trauma-informed and provided by the community advocates and shelter workers that help women and their children heal from these experiences every day. We cannot have the justice system continually failing women – it is costly both financially and emotionally. The Camrose Women’s Shelter supports Helen Naslund’s appeal and we call upon the justice system to make amends to Helen Naslund and set a precedent in Alberta that the legal injustices perpetuated against abused women must stop. 

Nora-Lee Rear
Camrose Women’s Shelter
Executive Director