Sunday, May 2, 2021

Hope for Helen: Stand With Imprisoned Grandmother/Abuse Survivor Helen Naslund


During the week leading up to Mother’s Day (May 2-9), join our social media campaign to show support for Alberta abuse survivor, farmer, and grandmother Helen Naslund. 
Helen was sentenced to 18 years in prison for defending herself against the constant threat of being killed by her abusive husband. She endured almost three decades of coercive-controlling abuse, only to be punished for surviving. Allowing the current sentence to stand would constitute a grave miscarriage of justice.
This week of online action is to support Helen’s appeal, and to publicly denounce one of the most severe sentences ever meted out against a woman in Canada defending herself from male violence in the home. 
1. Take a selfie while holding a statement like “I Stand With Helen Naslund: Stop Punishing Survivors!” or “Helen Naslund Should Not Be In Jail for Surviving” or “Jailing Women Who Defend Themselves is a Crime, #StandWithHelen”, etc. 
2. When you post your selfie, share a few words about why you are doing this, and include a link to the petition in support of Helen:   (If you are not on social media, email it to and we can share it for you on the Women Who Choose to Live Facebook page)
3. Email a copy of your selfie to Women Who Choose to Live at, and we’ll be sure to send a copy to Helen.
4. If you would like to write a Mother’s Day card/note to Helen, contact for details and an address. 
5. If you work with an organization that would like to write a support letter, contact and we’ll send you details!

In October, 2020, Helen Naslund was sentenced to 18 years in prison on a charge of manslaughter. As many have pointed out, she had already been held captive for close to 30 years in an incredibly abusive marriage. In an agreed upon statement of facts, the Crown acknowledged that throughout the marriage, there were “many” instances of physical and emotional abuse committed against Naslund, who at five foot, one inch, weighed about 100 pounds.
Indeed, the way Helen Naslund described it, her spouse was a classic abuser: "When I was in public he was always right there, if I talked to a friend he had to be there with his input. I couldn't go anywhere without him … it was always 'do as I say or else.'"
The statement of facts also acknowledged that "due to the history of abuse, concern for her children, depression and a learned helplessness, she felt she could not leave."

It is not clear why a guilty plea of manslaughter was entered, nor why her defence lawyer worked in tandem with the Crown to produce such an extraordinarily disproportionate sentence even as they discussed -- but then dismissed -- the availability of a defence based on "battered woman syndrome."
A Draconian Sentence
Elizabeth Sheehy (whose book Defending Battered Women on Trial is an indispensable resource) pointed out in an Edmonton Journal interview that 18 years is among the longest of any manslaughter sentence imposed on an abused woman, and the majority of women in the cases she has studied received two years or less and sometimes a suspended sentence or house arrest. (A much smaller number received a federal sentence, the longest of which was 10 years).
Helen's son Wesley gave a post-sentencing interview in which he detailed the many ways his mother tried to navigate the terror of living with her abusive spouse.
"Nothing worked," he said. "And I believe at the end, when it happened, I believe that my mother was -- I could tell she wasn't mom no more. She was empty, she was blank. At times, you'd look at her and you'd swear her eyes were hollow."
Wesley says he was also beaten by his father, and that it was always like walking on eggshells, having to account for everything he did. His father always kept a gun close at hand, ruling by threat and intimidation.
Setting Things Back 40 Years
He also says his mom tried to leave when he was 16, and he remembers her coming out of the bedroom after telling her husband it was over. When she emerged, he said, "she had tears in her eyes and all she said was 'I can't go, he says he'll find me and he'll kill me.'"
Jenny Wright, an expert panelist with the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, writes: “In decades of anti-violence work, I have not witnessed such a punitive sentence as the sentence against Ms. Naslund… I am profoundly and deeply alarmed at the continuous and prevalent pattern of criminalizing the survivors of gender-based violence, which perpetuates the abuse and does not serve the public interest. In fact, such a cruel and disproportionate sentence against Ms. Naslund erases 40 years of vital advocacy – culturally and systemically – to educate society about what gender-based violence is and its devastating impact on victims, families, communities and society as a whole.”
While Helen has launched an appeal of her sentence, she still has a difficult road ahead as the case winds its way through the courts and she remains behind bars. Your support in the week leading up to Mother’s Day and going forward will play a critical role both to lift Helen’s spirits and to stop this dangerous precedent from being used against other survivors.
Over the past few years, there’s been a reclamation of Mother’s Day from a saccharine Hallmark moment to a call to action responding to the fact that women (many of whom are parents and most of whom are racialized) represent the fastest growing sector of the prison population in Canada.
According to Policy4Women, “82 percent of women in prison are jailed as a result of behaviour related to attempts to cope with poverty, histories of abuse, and addiction and mental health issues that commonly arise from these experiences. In every province and territory, social assistance payments are so inadequate that women end up criminalized for doing what they must to support themselves and their children….87 percent of all women in federal prisons in Canada have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse….If a woman uses force to protect herself or others – especially if a weapon is involved – she will commonly face the full, often disproportionate, weight of the law.”
(More at:
Since 1991, when the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, Creating Choices, produced a report on rising numbers of women in prison, the number of women sentenced to federal jails – especially racialized women – has risen 200%. (more at
Additional articles:
To get involved, contact Women Who Choose to Live at

1 comment:

  1. All Canadians need to rise to the challenge of defending women and girls who are not being protected by those who are charged with their protection, namely, the police. Men need to take responsibility for their own behaviour and STOP abusing women, and men must call out other men when they see or know it is happening. We must all be accountable for each other's well-being.