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Senator’s wife allowed to talk to husband despite alleged threat to slit his throat

Maygan Sensenberger enters Provincial Court in Saskatoon, Wedensday, August 28, 2012. Sensenberger, the wife of Canadian Senator Rod Zimmer is charged with causing a disturbance and one count of uttering a death threat.

Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Crown says a witness heard a senator's wife say she would slit her husband's throat during a fracas on a flight from Ottawa to Saskatoon.

The peek into the prosecution's case against Maygan Sensenberger came as her defence lawyer lobbied a judge to allow the 23-year-old contact with her 69-year-old husband, Sen. Rod Zimmer.

The Crown initially said it was loath to agree to any changes to the woman's release conditions based on the "slit your throat" threat it says was overheard by another passenger and directed at Mr. Zimmer. There was no further detail presented.

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Prosecutor Matt Miazga said he doesn't care how high-profile the couple or the incident is — other people on the plane were frightened by Ms. Sensenberger's behaviour and there are a large number of potential witnesses to what went on.

"One never knows how serious these threats are," Mr. Miazga told court Wednesday.

Defence lawyer Leslie Sullivan argued Mr. Zimmer, who has attended his wife's court hearings and sat behind her Wednesday, didn't ask for charges against his wife to be laid.

"He does not feel he was threatened," Ms. Sullivan said. "They are very close ... and this is a very difficult time for them."

"It's been very difficult for both of them not to be together."

In the end, Judge Albert Lavoie agreed to allow the couple to talk over the phone and Internet, including Skype, but is not letting them communicate in person.

The case has been adjourned until Sept. 18 when it is expected Ms. Sensenberger will enter a plea.

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Neither Ms. Sensenberger nor Mr. Zimmer talked to reporters outside court.

The couple had been ordered to stay apart after Ms. Sensenberger was arrested last Thursday when the Air Canada flight landed in Saskatoon.

One witness has said Mr. Zimmer, a Liberal senator from Manitoba appointed in 2005, started having tightness in his chest on the flight and Ms. Sensenberger became upset. When Mr. Zimmer started feeling better after taking some oxygen, the couple started to fight over how serious Mr. Zimmer was taking his health, said witness Scott Wright.

Wright said the ordeal was at times profane, but not threatening.

Police, however, allege Ms. Sensenberger yelled about bringing down the plane and threatened Mr. Zimmer. Police say the disagreement between the couple started before concerns about Mr. Zimmer's health were raised.

She is charged with uttering threats and causing a disturbance. A more serious charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft was withdrawn Tuesday.

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The case has exploded on the Internet and in the media — with the couple's large age difference and a rich Facebook dossier on their relationship fuelling an appetite for the story. They marked their first wedding anniversary on Monday, but the court order kept them apart.

The case is being handled in a specific court set aside to hear domestic violence cases. Mr. Miazga said no contact orders are common in domestic violence court.

"That's the policy that is recommended to police departments and to our fellow Crown prosecutors as to how these matters are handled when they come before the court," Mr. Miazga told reporters outside the courthouse.

Mr. Miazga said the court offers an option for those who plead guilty and are willing to take responsibility for their actions. The court's website says the accused can receive a reduced sentence after completing counselling or attending substance abuse programs.

"It's a court that's considered a treatment or a therapeutic court," said Mr. Miazga.

"And the purpose of that is to try to deal with charges in a less adversarial fashion, whereby we try to encourage people who are charged to go into treatment and to do something with the base social issues that might lead them to come in conflict with the law."

Mr. Miazga said treatment is available in Saskatoon, Regina and North Battleford, where there are domestic violence courts.

He said it is "much more difficult to access" in other areas of the province or outside Saskatchewan. Weekend programs are available if people can't attend weekly treatment, but that type of program has to be paid for out of pocket.

Ms. Sensenberger's family has said it was not unusual for Ms. Sensenberger to be overly concerned about her husband's health and Mr. Zimmer has had health problems before.

In a statement in the Senate in March 2010, Mr. Zimmer revealed that seven years earlier, he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and given only a 20 per cent chance of surviving the next two years.

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