A father who killed his teenaged daughter with a slap after she'd failed to do her household chores has been handed a 60-day prison term by a Quebec court, capping a legal case that shined a light on the controversial use of corporal punishment.
Moussa Sidime, 74, was ordered to report for jail next week and serve out his sentence on Mondays and Tuesdays for 30 weeks.
His lawyer, Marie-Josée Duhaime, denied Wednesday that her client got off with a lenient punishment.
"I agree that a slap is an assault," she said in an interview. "But he is not someone who wanted to kill his daughter by slapping her face."
The assault that killed 13-year-old Noutene, a popular teen who'd hoped one day to become a lawyer, came after she'd returned home from school in October 2010. Her father told her to clean up the kitchen, then went to his room to take a nap.
Mr. Sidime twice returned to the kitchen and, dissatisfied with the job, told his daughter to continue, the court was told. As he turned to leave the room, he heard the teenager mumble what he took to be insults under her breath.
He confronted her and then slapped her twice, causing a vertebral artery to rupture in her head. He then slapped her buttocks, leaving her sobbing in the kitchen. A few minutes later, Noutene fell to the ground and never regained consciousness, dying in hospital two days later.
Quebec Court Judge Richard Marleau ruled Wednesday that while Mr. Sidime committed a serious offence that had to be denounced, a variety of mitigating factors had to be weighed in his sentence. The Crown had asked for a prison term of two years less a day.
Mr. Sidime had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and admitted his responsibility, Justice Marleau said. Various family members took turns describing him as a tolerant man and loving father. He had no criminal record, had expressed remorse, and "suffered as much as the rest of the family from the death of his child," the judge wrote.
A pathologist concluded that the injury that killed Noutene might have been caused either directly by the slaps, or by the girl's attempt to avoid the violence by turning her head. There were no marks on her cheeks.
The case also focused on cultural practices in some immigrant communities. A family friend testified that a slap on the face or buttocks isn't viewed as a violent act in their community (Mr. Sidime emigrated to Canada from Guinea). The judge agreed that cultural differences could not be ruled out in the case.
The same theme was taken up by Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Conservative senator and advocate for victims' rights, who addressed the question of cultural values in an interview with a Montreal radio station on Wednesday.
"I don't know Guinean society, but you can see there is a gap between this culture and Quebec's," Mr. Boisvenu told 98.5 FM.
He said hitting a child is a form of violence "and justice must always render exemplary sentences," noting that the Harper government had invested money to sensitize ethnic communities.
"This type of [corporal] punishment … toward girls and women in particular – it's rare that boys are struck, it's especially girls and women who are hit – is accepted, and it's a form of power over these people," Mr. Boisvenu said.
Ms. Duhaime, the defence lawyer, played down the issue. "In my youth – I've been practising law for 25 years – there were slaps. No one got worked up about it when someone got a tap on the backside, and in the not-so-distant past."
Mr. Sidime also faces two years' probation. He made no comment as he left the courtroom on the South Shore of Montreal, surrounded by supporters.