Nunavut Justice Earl Johnson cut in half a mandatory minimum punishment of four years for Cedric Ookowt of Baker Lake, convicted of shooting at a residence in his community, as the judge ruled it would be “grossly disproportionate to the crime.”
“I am satisfied that the accused is a good candidate for rehabilitation and can build on the work he has started at the Baffin Correctional Centre. While incarcerated, he has taken courses on substance abuse and healthy relations,” stated Johnson in a written decision released Feb. 16.
The original oral sentencing decision was handed down in September 2017.
Ookowt pleaded guilty to intentionally discharging a firearm in June 2016 at a place while being reckless as to whether another was present at that place. He had previously pleaded guilty to one charge of dangerous driving and one charge of evading police after an April 2016 incident.
While the Crown agreed both sentences should be served concurrently, it sought the full federally-imposed penalty of four years for the firearm charge – a penalty established in 2009. Defence lawyer James Morton disagreed and filed a constitutional challenge based on Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects an individual’s freedom from cruel and unusual punishments in Canada.
Morton suggested a sentence in the range of 18-months to two years less one day.
Johnson applied a detailed three-pronged approach to determining Ookowt’s sentencing: previous case law, Gladue considerations because the accused is Inuk, and the particular situation of the accused.
Accused cites prolonged bullying
According to the court document, Ookowt testified he had consumed a lot of alcohol the day he shot at the residence of a man he said jumped him. He also said his consumption had increased since the 2016 suicide death of a good friend.
“The accused testified that he was walking on the street when he was jumped by Arnold because Arnold wanted his alcohol. Arnold physically attacked him and punched him in the face while he was walking. Arnold admitted in his statement that he beat him up a little,” states Johnson.
That’s when Ookowt decided to get a gun.
“Despite the high level of intoxication, the accused was able to walk home to retrieve his father’s 2250 calibre rifle and position himself on a hill overlooking Kenneth’s (Arnold’s uncle’s) house. He was anxious and upset and feared for his security.
“The accused then fired one shot from the rifle into the window that was furthest to the left from his vantage point. Kenneth was in his living room watching television when the bullet shattered the window and missed him by a few inches. Arnold was not in the home.”
The accused also testified Arnold had regularly bullied him since he was 12 or 13, and that had increased over the previous year.
After weighing all legal factors, and considering Ookowt’s history, Johnson determined a lesser punishment would be enough of a deterrent, but he noted, “I know you are good with weapons, but I want you to understand the dangers of mixing alcohol and weapons. Unfortunately in Nunavut we have many cases where young people like you drink and then use weapons and cause harm to the community.”
Johnson noted that “although not employed in the wage economy, the accused has not wasted his time sitting at home watching television. He has put his traditional skills to use and has generated income through the sale of furs from animals he has trapped and from selling game he has killed.”
He concluded: “Under all the circumstances of this crime and this accused, I am satisfied that a sentence of two years less a day would be the appropriate one.”
Alcohol and weapons don’t mix
At the time of the sentencing, Johnson’s decision meant Ookowt had 54 days left to serve. Johnson calculated 1.5 days for each of the 675 Ookowt had already served.
However, Johnson had parting words for the 20-year-old man.
“I have sentenced you to a term in Nunavut. You are very, very fortunate that you are not going to a penitentiary,” he said. “What you did was very, very serious. You almost killed someone. I want you to remember that for the rest of your life.”
Johnson also stressed again that he understood Ookowt is a good hunter, and good with weapons, but alcohol and weapons don’t mix.
While Johnson imposed a 10-year weapons prohibition, he recommended lifting the prohibition order for sustenance or employment under section 113 of the Criminal Code.
Now on a period of 12-months’ probation, Ookowt must report to probation services in Baker Lake, carry out 50 hours of community service, abstain absolutely from the consumption of alcohol, and take counselling as recommended by the probation officer for alcohol abuse.