The tragic tale of an insult between cousins leading to the death of one at the hands of the other played out in NWT court Monday.
The prosecution argued in a Yellowknife courtroom that the repeat offender convicted of manslaughter in the death of Mark Poodlat last fall should spend six years in prison.
Victor Ugyuk, 32, was charged for an assault outside the Day Centre and Sobering Centre on Sept. 3 that led to the in-hospital death of Mark Poodlat, 36 on Sept. 25. Court heard they were cousins.
Ugyuk punched Poodlat eight times in the face after Poodlat apparently made a comment about Ugyuk and his friends being like the Three Stooges.
Both were very intoxicated at the time of the assault.
Paramedics took Poodlat to Stanton Territorial Hospital and later medevaced him to the University of Alberta Hospital, where he died on Sept. 25 from swelling in a major neck artery due to blunt force trauma, an autopsy revealed.
Alcohol is also thought to be a contributing factor to exacerbating Poodlat’s head movement, which further injured the artery. Poodlat’s blood alcohol concentration was three times the territory’s legal limit for driving.
‘Bring back a just and safe society’
Manslaughter, a homicide that occurs without the intent of killing the victim, has a range of possible sentencings, as each case and circumstance is unique.
Crown lawyer Angie Paquin suggested Ugyuk serve six years in prison.
She said that while “no court sentencing will bring back the life of Poodlat, the purpose is to bring back a just and safe society.”
“Sentencing sends a message about society’s view of certain behaviours,” said Paquin. “A strong message needs to be set. It is unacceptable.”
Paquin noted Ugyuk’s 44 previous convictions, 18 of which were violent offences, and that Ugyuk was on two different probation orders at the time of the assault.
She said that Ugyuk’s “violent history” puts him on the path of being designated a long-term offender and dangerous offender status if he doesn’t change his behaviour.
While Paquin acknowledged that Ugyuk was “somewhat taunted” by the victim, “it does not equal provocation.”
She described the altercation as three “sequences” of assaults where Ugyuk punched Poodlat eight times in six minutes. The court saw the three incidents as they were captured on security cameras. Paquin described Poodlat turning his head and keeping his hands behind his back as proof “there was never a consensual fight.”
‘Someone in need of help’
The Crown and defence lawyers both acknowledged the case’s relevant Gladue factors and Ugyuk’s troubling past.
Ugyuk grew up in Taloyoak, Nunavut. He lived mostly with his aunt and uncle, but defence lawyer Jay Bran told the court that the offender’s aunt recalls something happening after Ugyuk went to stay with his mother at age 14. When he came back, Ugyuk got into drinking, started skipping school and was apparently never the same.
While Ugyuk never went to residential schools, his mother did.
He was apparently violent with his spouse.
In 2012, Ugyuk lost his spouse and two children in a house fire in February thought by RCMP to have been started by the children’s mother. Afterwards, Ugyuk relocated to Yellowknife.
“When we look at all of his background and personal circumstances, we’re dealing with someone in need of help,” Bran said.
Ugyuk has also spent time in psychiatric facilities, in 2014 and 2017. He has been diagnosed with depression, intermittent explosive disorder and alcohol dependency.
He admits that he has not always taken the medication he’s been prescribed but that, Bran said, “he knows he has to stay on them to be in the best state mentally and avoid future altercations, which he now knows has clear consequences.”
Bran suggested that Ugyuk serve a sentence of three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years and that a six-year sentence could have “a crushing effect on him, given his background.”
Bran told the court that Ugyuk is hoping to move back to Taloyoak to be close to his family and the culture he grew up with. He said Ugyuk would like to serve his sentence in a facility in southern Canada where programs and treatments may be more available to him.
He says that Ugyuk’s early guilty plea should also be “extremely mitigating” and shows he took early responsibility for his actions.
Addressing the court, Ugyuk apologized to Poodlat’s mother, who was present.
“It was never my intention to hurt Mark,” he said. “He was a relative of mine, though we did have our ups and downs. I should have just turned my back and walked away.”
Friends of Padloot remember him as a kind and funny peacemaker.
Justice Louise Charbonneau will deliver her sentence on Friday afternoon.