Nunavut man gets seven years jail, lifetime firearm ban for shooting at RCMP dwelling
Judge stresses denunciation, deterrence and protection of Nunavut peace officers
After Joe Utye, 21, serves out a seven-year prison sentence imposed July 22, he will be forbidden to possess or use a firearm for as long as he lives, Justice Robert Kilpatrick ruled in a judgment issued July 23.
“The right of any Inuit beneficiary under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement to possess a firearm for hunting purposes is not absolute. In the circumstances of this case and this offender, public safety now becomes the paramount consideration,” Kilpatrick said.
Utye had pleaded guilty July 16 to reckless discharge of a firearm.
Police laid that charge after the young man — in the early hours of July 28, 2012 — flew into a drunken rage and fired a hail of bullets at the Kimmirut RCMP detachment.
Inside were Cpl. Wendy Cornell, Cst. Allan Jagoe and a young woman who had banged on the door of a police staff housing unit to warn them Utye was coming after them with a gun.
Court heard that Utye, a regular dope smoker who binge drinks about twice a month, had earlier downed a 26-ounce bottle of vodka and some beer, then exploded into a violent rage at around 2:00 a.m. that morning.
After grabbing a .303 rifle and stuffing his pockets with ammunition, he walked towards the RCMP detachment, firing numerous rounds.
Meanwhile, the two RCMP members and the young woman took shelter inside the detachment building, locked the doors and called RCMP headquarters in Iqaluit for help.
Utye stationed himself on a hill overlooking the police station and fired at least 20 rounds.
“Mr. Utye was an experienced hunter. It was the hunter’s eye that selected the firing position. As a hunter Mr. Utye well knew the power and destructive potential of this firearm,” Kilpatrick said in his judgment.
The gunman’s bullets penetrated a police vehicle at least seven times and penetrated the detachment building at least 13 times.
“Minutes seemed like hours to the victims of this attack. They waited for the bullet that would take a life or destroy a limb. The shots penetrated doors, windows, and walls with ease. Bullets were lodged in walls, furniture, and appliances. Bullets found their way into the kitchen, the bathroom, the office, and other areas of the detachment,” Kilpatrick said in his judgment.
After Utye stopped firing, 10 Kimmirut residents seized him and tied him up with a rope while they waited for an aircraft carrying an RCMP emergency response team.
By then, Utye had inflicted serious damage on the detachment building and some Northwestel equipment, knocking out phone service to much of the community.
At a press conference held later that day, Supt. Hilton Smee, then second-in-command at the Nunavut RCMP division, denounced “the deliberate hunting” of RCMP members in Nunavut.
In his judgment, Kilpatrick pointed out that the Utye shooting spree is the fourth such incident in Kimmirut since 2007.
In one of them, Pingoatuk Kolola murdered Cst. Douglas Scott, 20, in November 2007, a crime for which he received a life sentence in 2010.
In another incident, David Lyta, 22, was sentenced to nearly three years in jail this past January for firing multiple rounds at RCMP housing units in Kimmirut on March 18, 2012.
The fourth was perpetrated by Utye himself. Kilpatrick said in his judgment that in 2007, Utye was convicted in Youth Justice Court of pointing a firearm, uttering threats, and assault with intent to resist — in an incident that involved a police officer.
“The offence now before the court may be the first recorded adult offence, but Mr. Utye cannot claim to be a first offender. He is no stranger to firearms offences or crimes of violence against police,” Kilpatrick said.
For that reason, Kilpatrick rejected the idea that Utye’s youth warrants a lenient sentence.
And he also rejected the idea that Utye didn’t mean to harm anyone when he fired 13 rounds into the Kimmirut detachment, saying that notion “offends common sense.”
“It was simply good luck, and not any planning on Mr. Utye’s part, that allowed the human beings inside the detachment to escape serious injury or death,” Kilpatrick said.
And Kilpatrick insisted that there is a “compelling need” for tough sentences that denounce and deter firearms offences directed at peace officers in Nunavut.
“This sentencing posture is needed in order to better protect peace officers and promote public safety in this jurisdiction,” Kilpatrick said.
But Kilpatrick did say that Utye’s guilty plea mitigated the length of his sentence, saying that if the young man had been convicted after a trial, his sentence would have been “significantly longer.”
He also gave Utye 75 weeks credit for hard time served at the Baffin Correctional Centre waiting for the charge to be dealt with in court.
And he sentenced him to another 289 weeks in a federal penitentiary, likely the Fenbrook institution in central Ontario, giving him the legal equivalent of seven years in jail.
And he imposed a lifetime firearms ban on Utye.
To do this, Kilpatrick refused to grant an exemption available to subsistence hunters and said that public safety trumps the Inuit hunting rights set out in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
“Mr. Utye has on two occasions transformed the tool of a hunter into a potential instrument of homicide. He was warned once. He has reoffended,” Kilpatrick said.
That means Utye may never again use or possess any firearm, crossbow, prohibited weapon, restricted weapon, ammunition, or explosive.
“Mr. Utye may assist others in hunting activities by helping to pack or dress the kill, but he may never again possess or use a firearm,” he said.
Lawyers offered no explanation for Utye’s violent outburst. But Kilpatrick did recommend that Utye see a psychiatrist to find out if there is an “organic cause” contributing to Utye’s “explosive temper” and he praised the Kimmirut residents who helped the police apprehend Utye.
“Their involvement in a dangerous and volatile situation came at personal risk to themselves,” he said.