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Clockwise from left: four-year-old Jayven, 17-year-old Myah Gratton, two-month-old Isabella Manoakeesick, six-year-old Bethany and 30-year-old Amanda Clearwater.Chelsea Cowell/Facebook

Lawyers representing a 29-year-old man accused by Manitoba RCMP of killing his common-law partner, their three young children and teenage niece in a rural community southwest of Winnipeg are requesting a mental-health assessment from a provincial court to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

The accused, Ryan Howard Manoakeesick, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder. At a brief proceeding before a justice of the peace at a Winnipeg court on Friday, Aiyana McKenzie, an articling student from Wolson Roitenberg Robinson Wolson Minuk, the law firm that is defending Mr. Manoakeesick, requested a date for the assessment.

Mr. Manoakeesick was not present for the hearing. The court is expected to reconvene on the matter on Monday.

On Feb. 11, RCMP discovered Mr. Manoakeesick’s 30-year-old partner, Amanda Clearwater, lying dead in a ditch on a highway, a few kilometres away from their home in Carman, Man.

Less than three hours later, police found their three children – 2½-month-old Isabella, four-year-old Jayven and six-year-old Bethany – dead near a burning vehicle, where Mr. Manoakeesick was arrested. Later that day, police also found the body of Ms. Clearwater’s niece, 17-year-old Myah-Lee Gratton, at the one-bedroom bungalow where they had all lived.

Mr. Manoakeesick has been in custody since his arrest. Ms. McKenzie said the defence is not applying for bail.

The RCMP have declined to release the results of autopsies on the five victims, or their causes of death.

A fitness assessment would establish whether the murder charges against Mr. Manoakeesick can be tried in court. It would also help determine whether he was suffering from mental illness when he allegedly committed the killings.

The court would likely rely on a psychiatrist’s opinion and other evidence, including witness statements, to make its decision.

Laura Robinson, a lawyer at Wolson Roitenberg Robinson Wolson Minuk, is expected to lead Mr. Manoakeesick’s defence. The Winnipeg-based firm has been at the forefront of some of the country’s most noteworthy criminal cases, such as that of former hockey coach and convicted sex offender Graham James.

Court records indicate Mr. Manoakeesick has struggled with addictions and mental health. In 2019, he was convicted of mischief and sentenced to 18 months of probation. In that case, Provincial Court Justice Kelly Moar told him to control his methamphetamine addiction. “If you don’t do something, eventually, it’s going to cost you your family,” Justice Moar said.

In 2021, Mr. Manoakeesick found himself in court again, this time on impaired driving charges. He was taken into custody and then released on $1,000 bail. He was required to live at his home in Carman, which he rented with Ms. Clearwater.

Manitoba has the second-highest rate of intimate-partner violence among Canadian provinces, at 633 victims per 100,000 people, according to police-reported data from 2022.

A funeral for the family was held in Carman earlier this week, after a vigil in the small agricultural town.

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