Current Problems

Judge orders 1-year sentence for ​Sask. woman who abducted child and forged IDs to flee country

November 2, 2023

Dawn Walker will serve her jail sentence in the community 

Lawyers for Saskatoon woman Dawn Walker say the kidnapping and other charges against her should be stayed after her human rights were violated in multiple ways.
Dawn Walker is accused of faking her and her child’s deaths.  (Submitted by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations)

CBC Indigenous: A Saskatoon woman has been given a one-year jail sentence, to be served in the community, for abducting her child and using false identification to take the child illegally across the border into the U.S.

Dawn Walker pleaded guilty on Thursday at Saskatoon provincial court to three criminal charges: abduction in contravention of a custody order, making statements that were false and misleading for the purpose of obtaining passport, and possessing forged documents with the intention of committing an offence.

The charges stem from a high-profile incident involving Walker that happened in the summer of 2022. Walker and her child seemingly vanished from Saskatoon and an extensive missing persons search followed.

The Indigenous mother and child were found safe in Oregon City, and it was revealed that Walker had orchestrated their disappearance.

Judge Brad Mitchell accepted a joint submission from the prosecutor and defence of a one-year conditional sentence order followed by 18 months of probation for Walker. That means Walker will serve her sentence in the community, so long as she abides by strict court-imposed conditions.

Walker and her legal team have repeatedly insisted that she fled the country in a desperate bid to protect her child and herself from her ex-partner. Her ex-partner denies all allegations of domestic abuse. They both spoke in court on Thursday.

Walker called her actions a lapse in judgment and said she was motivated by love for her child.

“As an Indigenous parent it is my sacred duty, responsibility, to protect my [child]’s innocence,” Walker, who is from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, said. “I am truly sorry for my actions,” she said. “I cannot change what I did, but I will learn from it, grow from it and help others.”

Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said the Crown does not agree in any way that Walker was abused by her ex-partner or that the child was in danger because of him. “I think the take away here by her guilty plea is an acknowledgement by her that she did not have a legal defence to these claims or to these allegations,” Olenchuk said. “These matters were fully investigated by several different agencies and did not result in charges.”

Contentious custody negotiations

According to an agreed statement of facts, the couple was together for about four years before they split in 2018. They then went through contentious custody negotiations regarding their child.

In 2020, Walker reported her ex to the police, alleging that he was abusive. She also went to the Ministry of Social Services in 2021 with abuse allegations. Neither agency’s investigation resulted in charges or action against her ex.

Dawn Walker arrives to court before pleading guilty

Watch Walker arrive to court Thursday: Duration 0:38

Dawn Walker, a Saskatoon woman accused of abducting her child and faking their deaths, pleaded guilty to three offences in provincial court Thursday.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Walker’s defence team said she was failed by these authorities and had to take matters into her own hands.

Court heard that her preparation to leave the country with their child began as early as March 2022. She took steps to steal the identities of two Indigenous women, both of whom were under her authority in her job, and one of their children. She applied for and created fraudulent identification documents, opened a bank account using a false name and transferred $77,000 into it.

She also used $10,000 cash to buy a new vehicle in June 2022.

On July 24, 2022, Walker and her child were reported missing. Walker had staged their personal belongings, a fishing rod and her truck near the South Saskatchewan River.

The missing persons search along the river was extensive, involving multiple agencies and volunteers. As people feared that they had drowned, the mother and child were travelling through the U.S. Her child told police “he and his mother had gone on a trip and they had gotten lost on the way to Las Vegas.”

Father of child denies all abuse allegations

While the missing persons search was underway for Walker and her child, some of her supporters began to cast suspicion on her ex. He shared a victim impact statement in court Thursday, describing how hurtful it was to hear people say they thought he did something nefarious to his child.

“We were devastated the moment they found Dawn’s truck by the river,” he said.

He said he was advised to avoid helping with the main search for the pair because of the abuse allegations. “I felt helpless that I was not able to search for my own child.”

He called his child the biggest victim in this situation and denied all allegations of abuse. “My life and my family’s life has been forever altered,” he said. “I fear that if Dawn is not held accountable for her actions, I fear her behaviour will further escalate.”

Defence says systems fail Indigenous women

Walker has been represented in court by Marie Henein, who is one of Canada’s best-known defence lawyers. Henein said Walker, like many Indigenous women, has been a victim of personal abuse and systemic failings.

Walker’s family were residential school survivors and Walker personally attended day school, growing up in a home that had physical abuse and addictions, Henein said. Court heard that in adulthood she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Henein said that despite these challenges, Walker rose to be a woman of prominence in the community and a known advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women. She had secured employment in a top position of authority at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations — managing 92 employees and overseeing the organizational budget. She’s also an accomplished author who holds two university degrees.

The lawyer said Walker wouldn’t have committed these crimes unless she had to. “This is an Indigenous mother who sought help from authorities, who was a victim over and over and over again since childhood, who rose above it, and who was not heard and who was so distressed that she felt she had no other option than to engage in this.”

Dawn Walker’s lawyer speaks outside court

Watch Walker’s lawyer Marie Henein speak outside court: Duration 1:44

Marie Henein, lawyer for Dawn Walker, speaks outside of Saskatoon provincial court after Walker pleaded guilty to three offences.

Click on the following link to view the video:

A ‘significant sentence’

In his sentencing decision, Judge Mitchell noted that Walker had a well-conceived and organized plan that was carried out over the course of several months, that she intentionally misled public and family members — causing immense emotional trauma — and that the cost for the missing persons search was significant.

However, he also noted that she pleaded guilty, has shown remorse and taken responsibility for her actions, doesn’t have a criminal record, has been faithful to strict bail conditions, has great influence in community, and has endured hardships and challenges as an Indigenous woman.

Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said she believes this is “a significant sentence.”

“Ms. Walker will now be serving a jail sentence in the community and this sentence really sends a message that the courts will not stand by and have people who are displeased or unhappy with how family law proceedings are going, abscond with their children and take the law into their own hands,” said Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk.

“It is important for people to understand that abusing positions of trust and not going through the proper legal proceedings cannot be condoned.”

Walker still faces charges in the U.S. of felony aggravated identity theft and misdemeanour identity theft.

Crown prosecutor in Dawn Walker case says motives and circumstances do not change that she still pleaded guilty

Watch Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk speak otuside court: Duration 3:02

A Saskatoon mother who pleaded guilty to kidnapping her own child, faking their deaths and then taking off to the United States will serve a 12-month sentence in the community, followed by 18 months probation. The case raised questions about how Indigenous women are treated by Saskatchewan police and the courts. Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk says Walker’s guilty plea is an acknowledgement by her that she did not have a legal defence to these claims.