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Four-year mandatory minimum sentence for discharging a firearm is constitutional: Nunavut court

Nunavut appeal court decisions discuss intoxication, Inuit culture and protecting Indigenous women

Four-year mandatory minimum sentence for discharging a firearm is constitutional: Nunavut court

The Nunavut Court of Appeal has upheld the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum sentence for intentionally discharging a firearm.

Two appeals, heard at the same time, both involved the issue of whether s. 244.2(3)(b) of the Criminal Code, which imposes the mandatory minimum punishment of imprisonment for four years, violates s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment.

In both cases, the appeal court determined that the four-year sentence was not grossly disproportionate for the offence or for the offender, but stayed the service of the sentence of imprisonment due to certain factors.

In R v Ookowt, 2020 NUCA 5, a 19-year-old Inuit man, intoxicated at the time, shot a bullet at a house, shattering a window and narrowly missing the owner of the house. While the sentencing judge, who imposed a shorter sentence, considered intoxication as a factor that decreased Ookowt’s blameworthiness, the appeal court disagreed.

Ookowt had previously been charged with dangerous driving and evading the police, for which he was subject to a legal undertaking that he abstain from alcohol consumption. Aside from drinking copious amounts despite the prohibition, he also managed to go home, retrieve his father’s rifle and load it and fire it with some precision. These circumstances made his intoxication aggravating or, at best, a neutral factor, said the court.

In R v Itturiligaq, 2020 NUCA 6, a 24-year-old Inuit man fired at the roofline of a house where his girlfriend was visiting friends, saying he was upset that she refused to listen to his demands to return home with him. When his girlfriend then left her friends’ house, the man hit her on the leg with the butt of his rifle.

The sentencing judge, who imposed a shorter sentence, said that the situation in Nunavut is different from the gang-related gun violence that occurs in other parts of Canada. The appeal court, however, stated that Indigenous women, including those living in northern communities, are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence and violence in general, and deserve the same protection afforded by the courts.

Kathleen Roussel, director of public prosecutions, said that the Public Prosecution Service Canada approved of these “decisions and the emphasis upon protecting Indigenous women from threats, intimidation and gun violence.”

The appeal court had also called attention to the intersection between Canadian criminal law and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, which the PPSC defined as “a body of knowledge and unique cultural insights of Inuit into the workings of nature, humans and animals.”

“The guidance provided by the court of appeal on the application of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit will be of assistance to the crown in the future as the PPSC continues to develop best practices for consulting with the Inuit community to provide the prosecutors and the courts with evidence about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in the context of sentencing,” said Shannon O'Connor, chief federal prosecutor of the Nunavut Regional Office.

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