Pregnant woman 'never calling the police again'

19-year-old, who faces no charges, distressed at being behind bars after attempts to subpoena her as witness in domestic assault case failed
Apr 08, 2008 04:30 AM
Michele Henry
Crime Reporter


Noellee Mowatt has vowed never to call police again in any situation, even if she's suffering.

Through choking sobs yesterday morning, Mowatt, 19, made the pact from a pay phone at a Milton jail, where she's spending the last few days of her pregnancy.

Due to deliver next Tuesday, the teenager has been detained at Vanier Centre for Women since Thursday, when a justice of the peace denied her bail.

Mowatt, who faces no criminal charges in this case, won't be let out until she testifies at her boyfriend's domestic assault trial on Friday.

"I only made a mistake by calling the cops," she said.

"This is what I get. ... I'm never calling the police again even if I'm dying, I'm not going to call them."

Mowatt, is worried that the stress of being in prison will affect the health of her baby, a girl, and is struggling to understand why she's being "punished."

She called police in December to report that her boyfriend Christopher Harbin, 25, had assaulted her.

Harbin is facing eight charges: four counts of assault, including assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and three counts of breaching probation.

Toronto police said they tried several times to serve the expectant mother with a subpoena to show up in court. When she wasn't present March 20, a judge issued a material warrant for her arrest.

According to Mowatt's defence lawyer Lydia Riva, a judge can issue such a warrant if there is evidence someone won't respond to a subpoena or is evading a subpoena.

Mowatt, who lived in shelters and a rooming house before her arrest April 1, said that while she had several conversations with detectives, no one ever asked her to pick up a subpoena or tried to drop one off.

"They're treating me like I'm a murderer," she said. "I didn't kill anybody. I didn't do anything wrong."

Sheamus Murphy, spokesperson for Ontario's Attorney General Chris Bentley, said that he can't comment on the case because it is before the courts, but he did say the facts in this matter have been reviewed by two independent judicial officers the judge who issued the warrant and the justice of the peace who denied Mowatt bail.

Murphy added that even though it is the job of police to collect evidence, and protecting the victim is always a first priority, "they can't always avoid having the complainant testify."

Mowatt's incarceration has created a stir within the women's advocacy community in Toronto.

Several groups said yesterday they can't remember the last time a victim of domestic violence was held in jail on a material warrant.

However, it is not the first time, Murphy confirmed.

Amanda Dale of the YWCA is baffled that such means, which are usually employed to compel other criminals to testify, would be used on someone so vulnerable.

She's worried about the precedent set by Mowatt's jail time.

"It's counterproductive to the broader goal of getting women to leave violent situations," she said.

"It will have a chilling effect on anyone coming forward and reporting to the police."

Riva said her client was denied bail last Thursday, despite offers of putting Mowatt under house arrest, having her report daily to police and promising to appear in court for Harbin's trial.

Mowatt, who immigrated to Canada in 2006 to live with her father, who died last summer, said she sends money, when she has it, back to Jamaica, where her 2-year-old daughter lives with Mowatt's mother.

Mowatt said she's worried about being in jail with women who have hepatitis and HIV.

She's also anxious about testifying at her boyfriend's trial. Harbin supported her, she said, and the two plan to take correspondence courses, raise a family and marry.

She regrets calling the police in December after she and Harbin had an argument and he was "kicking her out."

"He's my best friend," she said. "He's a good person. He's a good man. And now they want me to testify. I'm going to be way too emotional to say anything."