Woman stabbed at Winnipeg Olive Garden confronts attacker in emotional victim impact statement

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

A young woman repeatedly stabbed while working at a Winnipeg Olive Garden in June says she spent weeks after the assault lying awake at 3 a.m., clutching a kitchen knife under her pillow in fear the man who attacked her had somehow escaped custody.

The 18-year-old spoke with grace as she addressed her assailant in a Winnipeg courtroom at a sentencing hearing last week, where 27-year-old Robert Alan Ingram pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the unprovoked and random attack at the restaurant in the city’s Transcona area.

“I wish you chose not to stab someone that day — and this is a bit personal — but I’m thankful you chose me. I really am,” the woman said, pausing to collect herself at times while reading a victim impact statement at the Aug. 29 sentencing in provincial court.

“Because not a single one of those grandmas taking their kids out for dinner deserved to get stabbed that night, or any of the kids on staff. Not a single soul deserved to feel like their last breath was going to be at 18 years old with nothing to their name.”

The woman said she was an active basketball player before the stabbing, but now struggles to climb stairs and even hold her head up because her neck muscles are so weak from being slashed.

She said her family is also suffering financially after the attack, since her job used to help take some stress off her mother — who’s now dipping into their family’s savings to make sure she can still go to university.

Ingram pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault, while two other charges — possession of a weapon and failing to comply with a probation order — were stayed.

Attacked on first serving shift

Crown attorney Colin Soul told court Ingram drank three beers at the restaurant that night before leaving, and later returned and ordered another. 

He then “without warning or provocation” got up from his table and approached the victim, who was serving someone else, and stabbed her in the neck with a folding knife before knocking her to the ground and continuing to stab her in front of horrified witnesses.

Soul said one of those stab wounds was to the victim’s chest, which punctured and collapsed her lung. He described her as “truly a resilient young woman” who also survived stab wounds to her wrist and clavicle and lacerations to her neck, arm and leg.

The victim told court she’d been asking for months to get moved up from hosting to serving duties at the restaurant — even missing her senior skip day in high school to go to training and memorizing the entire menu front to back.

When she finally got her chance, it was the same night Ingram walked into the restaurant.

Woman repeatedly stabbed at Winnipeg Olive Garden restaurant

A man is in custody after what Winnipeg police call a ‘random, unprovoked’ stabbing at a Transcona restaurant. The attack left a young woman with serious injuries.

“I thought that instead of my last breath being taken surrounded by family and love when I’m 98 and a half, my last breath was going to be taken staring up at an ambulance ceiling while my hundred-dollar uniform I was so excited to wear was being cut off by paramedics,” she told court.

Police found Ingram in a nearby parking lot later that evening, carrying a knife with dried blood on it, court heard.

Assailant wanted to go to prison, court hears

Attorneys for both the Crown and defence said Ingram’s intention in attacking the victim appeared to be motivated by a desire to land himself in Stony Mountain Institution just outside of Winnipeg — which Judge Malcolm McDonald called “a frightening example of somebody picking out somebody randomly to fulfil a really bizarre purpose.”

The victim, who court heard is Black and Muslim, said she’s dealt with racism all her life and long battles with depression and insomnia, but none of that compares to the emotional fallout from being attacked that night.

“I can’t do anything except wonder why my life was so minuscule to you,” she said. “My entire life meant nothing. It was a means to an end.”

Ingram’s lawyer Saheel Zaman said there have been indications his client suffers from delusions. The lawyer said his client wanted to return to the federal penitentiary where he had never been but believed he had previously done time.

He said Ingram has spent the last several years of his life alternating between living in apartments and on the streets, with some stays in psychiatric facilities and shelters.

Muslim community suggests restaurant attack was motivated by hate

The Manitoba Islamic Association says the attack on a Black Muslim woman working at a Winnipeg Olive Garden last month needs to be further investigated as a targeted hate crime. Police say the 18-year-old was repeatedly stabbed at the Transcona restaurant on June 8. The association says the woman was wearing a hijab when she was attacked and stabbed in the neck, torso and arms. Police say the attack was random.

Court records show Ingram has also spent some time in provincial jail over the last few years, after pleading guilty to offences including arson, theft and mischief. 

Zaman also noted his client deals with some substance abuse issues and mental health issues, which Ingram interrupted to say include an “unspecified psychotic disorder.”

Court heard that while police asked Ingram the night of the attack about whether his actions against the victim — who was wearing a hijab — were motivated by racism, he was adamant in denying that possibility.

When given a chance to speak at the sentencing, Ingram apologized to the victim and reiterated the attack “was not a hate crime.”

Zaman said on Wednesday the attack was driven by “an accumulation of factors” including mental illness.

“This was unfortunately a tragic incident and we acknowledge the considerable harm that was done,” he said.

The assault shook Winnipeg’s Muslim community, which rallied around the victim and called for the attack to be investigated as a targeted hate crime. The National Council of Canadian Muslims also wrote a community impact statement that was read at Ingram’s sentencing.

McDonald sentenced Ingram to six years in prison minus time served, the middle ground between the Crown’s recommended eight years and the defence’s suggested four. He was also ordered to provide a DNA sample and banned from carrying weapons for life.

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