'I want him acquitted,' jailed pregnant witness says of boyfriend

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A pregnant teen being held in jail to compel her testimony against her boyfriend, who is accused of abusing her, says she hopes he will be acquitted.

"I want to be with him again," Noellee Mowatt, 19, told CBC News in an interview Wednesday from the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ont., near Toronto. "I want him to come home. I want him to be acquitted of the charges, so that he can be a good father that I know he is and can be."

Mowatt, who is nine months pregnant and does not face any charges, has been in custody since April 3, after a material warrant was issued to compel her to testify against Christopher Harbin, her boyfriend.

Court documents obtained by CBC News show Harbin is facing eight charges, including assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and three counts of breaching probation.

Police said they were worried Mowatt might not turn up to testify.

The court case is generating a lot of interest among those who work with victims of domestic violence and sparked fierce condemnation from provincial politicians.

Mowatt said being jailed has compounded the stress she already feels as she prepares to give birth.

"I cry all the time," she said, her voice cracking. "I never thought I would end up with this kind of problem."

She indicated she would testify against Harbin, but after this experience, she said, she'll never ask for police help again.

"I'm never dialling 911 ever again, no matter what," she said. "If I witness somebody getting hurt I won't help them I won't dial 911. Period. I won't."

Mowatt's lawyer, Lydia Riva, said the expectant mother is likely to remain in jail until she's taken to court on Friday. Her due date is April 15.

Jailing 'outrageous,' say opposition MPPs

Ontario's opposition parties called the jailing of Mowatt "outrageous," and warn it will deter other abuse victims from coming forward.

"I think the process stinks, to be a poor woman, to be dragged out of her home at midnight, pregnant, almost a child herself in a frightening situation," said Conservative MPP Joyce Savoline.

New Democrat Cheri DiNovo said the government needs to examine the issue closely.

"If this is what's happening at the end of their policies  then clearly this government has some work to do," she said.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday he's not familiar with the details of the case, but added he is concerned about the signal sent by jailing an alleged victim.

"It creates a little bit of discomfort," he said, but said he won't second-guess the judge's decision.

Worries about what message is sent

Neka McGregor, who sits on a committee that advises the province on domestic violence issues, worries this case will make women even more reluctant to come to police.

She has had personal experience with coming forward to report abuse and said that in her experience, women are conflicted about involving the police.

"I hesitated. I hesitated. I must admit, however, at the end of the day, I felt it was something I had to do in order to have it stop," she said.

Pamela Cross, a legal consultant in the domestic violence field, said even when women come forward, many times they're too scared to testify. Cross said the women know that after they testify there's really nothing to keep them safe.

"All you have to do is look at the reports from the coroner's Domestic Violence-Death Review Committee [report] to see that most of the time, something like 85 per cent of the time, when women are killed by partners or former partners, it happens after there's been court involvement after he's been told to stay away from her," said Cross.

Vivienne Greene, who worked in the field of domestic violence for 16 years, said a decade ago the courts changed the rules in order to minimize reliance on the alleged victims by having police gather evidence from other sources.

"So you have neighbours. You have medical reports. You have other ways  that corroborate the crime so you don't have to use her."