Nunavut Justice Paul Bychok ruled the minimum mandatory sentence of four years in a federal penitentiary for a firearm charge violates Simeonie Itturiligaq’s Charter rights and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Itturiligaq challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum sentence, and Bychok found in his favour.
“A sentence must fit the crime and the offender. This fundamental principle will be at the forefront of my decision,” stated Bychok.
“A just, a fit jail sentence in this case would be in the range of 18 months to two years less a day in territorial jail.”
Bychok examined the matter from the point of view of the Gladue principle for Indigenous offenders and the Canadian Charter of Rights, as well as previous Nunavut case law, all against the backdrop of the collective historical trauma of Inuit.
“The Nunavut Court of Justice cannot judge offenders fairly without acknowledging and understanding the real impact of this reality on Nunavummiut,” he stated, referring to Inuit forced off the land, children placed in residential schools, the impact of sexual predators, job scarcity, overcrowding and suicide rates.
Bychok noted the disconnect between southern and Inuit sentencing concepts “and how that disconnect must be faced squarely by sentencing judges in Nunavut,” while stating Itturiligaq also violated Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles.
Elsewhere in the decision, Bychok called the minimum mandatory sentence of four years to be grossly disproportionate for Itturiligaq, while acknowledging the gravity of firearm offences, domestic violence, and that the “sober offender knew there were four people in the house.”
Bychok also listed Itturiligaq’s own efforts. He has completed four rehabilitative programs while in custody at Makigiarvik Corrections Centre in Iqaluit – Inside Out, Substance Abuse Program, Alternatives to Violence, and Healthy Inuit Families Program. He also participated successfully in the six-week Town Crew Program and the Inuit Cultural Skills Program.
“I must not lose sight of this youthful first-time offender’s efforts to date and his real potential for rehabilitation,” he stated, noting, “The offender entered an early guilty plea; the offender has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions upon his arrest and interrogation, Ms. Lyta has forgiven him; and the offender does not have a prior criminal record.”
The incident in question happened on the night of Jan. 8. According to the document, Itturiligaq sought to have his girlfriend Leesa Lyta return home from a friend’s. Lyta refused, at which point Itturiligaq went home for his .243-calibre Remington 7600 rifle, and when Lyta again refused to leave with him, “he picked up his rifle and fired one shot which entered the house above the front door near the roof line.”
“The bullet exited through the roof. Ms. Lyta then left the house and went up to the accused. He struck her on the leg with the rifle butt, and they both mounted the ski-doo. They then returned together to their residence.”
Itturiligaq was sober at the time, and he told the interviewing officer that he took full responsibility for his actions.
“He said he had been angry and upset with Ms. Lyta because he felt she was not spending enough time with him and their two-year-old daughter, Emma. He was angry that she had gone to her friend’s place without telling him,” according to the document.
“The accused admitted that he had taken a shot at the house. He said he aimed at the top of the house. He said he did not aim at anyone … He said he deliberately aimed at the top of the house.”
Itturiligaq is 24 years old, a Grade 12 graduate, and is described as having had a traditional upbringing and as an avid hunter with a history of employment in the wage economy, including being employed at the time of his arrest.
Lyta declined to file a victim impact statement, has been visiting Itturiligaq at Makigiarvik where she brings him country food, and Bychok stated he was told that they wish their relationship to continue.
At the time of Bychok’s ruling, Itturiligaq had 303 days left to serve in jail, having accumulated 416 days of credit in pre-sentence custody. Itturiligaq will be on probation for two years, with conditions and additional orders, including a firearms prohibition with the possibility of firearm use for sustenance or employment purposes.