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Princeton stabbing: System failed when charges were reduced: Advocate

The director of a Penticton woman's advocacy group says justice wasn't served in the recent sentencing of James Buhler for the vicious attack on his ex-wife in a Princeton parking lot in 2014.
April 30, 2016 - 10:30 AM

PENTICTON - James Buhler wrote a suicide note, then lured his former wife to a public place to attempt to reconcile their relationship in February, 2014. When she denied him, the Princeton man pulled a knife and stabbed her 11 times before she was saved by their daughter who was also badly wounded.

This week Buhler made a bargain with the Crown and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault instead of attempted murder. And the executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society says that bargain just made her job a lot harder.

“To think an attempt on your life is an aggravated assault, not attempted murder, when it was pretty obvious that there was intent to kill and commit suicide later, is a shame,” Debbie Scarborough says. “I’m sure she thought she was going to die in that Dairy Queen parking lot, and I’m sure her daughter, sitting in the vehicle and seeing what was going on, thought her mother was going to die.”

Scarborough says women become keenly aware of these signposts of societal and institutional attitudes towards women at risk and it factors heavily into difficult decisions they must make. It’s why so many women don’t report assaults.

“Many of us question — though I certainly don’t anymore after being in this field for a long time — but many in society wonder why women don’t come forward to report assaults,” she says. “When we share everything, our thoughts and our feelings in a victim impact statement and this is what happens.”

Many factors may have influenced the Crown’s decision to accept the plea, including unexpected evidence or a perceived difficulty in proving an element of the case but unlike a judge’s decision or reasons for sentencing, the Crown is under no obligation to explain itself. Justice Austin Cullen, who took the plea, noted that attempted murder is difficult to prove.

But the wider impacts must also be understood, Scarborough says. Despite a six-year prison sentence, Buhler could be out on parole in a year.

“Their lives are forever changed, and once he’s out of incarceration, they will be forever on guard and looking over their shoulder, and it’s not a way to live,” she says.

If the courts are constrained by convention and law, someone else needs to step up and make changes, she says.

“I don’t know if the decision makers and the law makers realize it or not, but it does have a ripple effect,” she says, noting future victims will see this decision and possibly think twice about coming forward with their stories.

“It has a much bigger impact. I think the system failed,” she says.

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