Judge lambastes Nunavik leaders
Easy access to booze and guns fuel deadly shootings
In a Feb. 8 sentencing decision in the case of a young man convicted for his involvement in a deadly shooting spree on Feb. 9, 2005, a Nunavik judge criticized Nunavik leaders for allowing the free flow of alcohol in the region and easy access to deadly firearms.
Judge Daniel Bédard of the Quebec travelling court issued a lengthy jail sentence to Michel Tooktoo of Kuujjuaraapik. Michel and another young man, Allie Tooktoo, 21 at the time of the incident, took part in an armed attack in which two other young men were blasted with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Timothy Fleming, 17, was killed and Aibilie Weetaltuk, 15, was disfigured for life.
“Inuit authorities, well aware of the social impact of alcohol abuse on the members of the community and the violence associated with it, permit the operations of the bars located in Kuujjuaraapik and Kuujjuaq,” Bédard said.
“Put together, alcohol abuse and the availability of firearms constitute the necessary and sufficient ingredients that lead to explosive situations, as what took place in the present matter,” Bédard said.
Bars in Kuujjuaraapik and Kuujjuaq are owned by Inuit landholding corporations that are creations of the James Bay land claims agreement. A second bar in Kuujjuarapik is run as a social club with Inuit, Cree and non-aboriginal members.
Bédard invited Kuujjuaraapik’s municipal leaders into the courtroom to hear his 14-page sentencing judgment for Michel Tooktoo, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, but who was tried and sentenced as an adult.
Michel received eight years for manslaughter, three years for aggravated assault and one year for the illegal use of a firearm. In determining the length of the Michel’s sentence, Bédard took into account the offender’s young age.
Because he received a credit of four years for time spent in preventive custody awaiting trial, Michel will now serve out only eight years of the 12-year total, in an adult facility. He is also prohibited from possessing firearms until February 2017.
Allie Tooktoo pleaded guilty, on an earlier court date, to manslaughter and aggravated assault. Bédard gave him a five-year sentence, followed by a three-year probation period.
Bédard said the tragedy contains a “wake-up” message for leaders to clamp down on booze and loose firearms in Nunavik.
“Dramatic incident indeed, but can we say sufficiently dramatic to provoke a change in the community’s approach towards alcohol abuse and access to firearms?” Bédard said.
Bédard’s judgment says Michel, who had been arguing with Timothy Fleming over a girl, shot the 17-year-old boy three times with a 12-gauge shotgun and then hit him on the head with the gun’s handle when he ran out of ammunition.
The other victim, Aibilie Weetaltuk, then 15, pleaded with Michel not to shoot him more than once. But Michel shot the second victim twice, once on the back and arms and once in the legs.
“He did not shoot to scare, he shot to kill,” Bédard said of Michel’s use of the firearm.
Allie helped Michel by kicking Fleming and jumping on his head, the judgment says.
Bédard described how Michel had been “living a life based on alcohol and drug consumption, with no plans or objectives for the future, with serious behavioural problems to a point where he was tagged by some members of the community as a bum.”
Michel’s presentencing report said he did not suffer much remorse and had not made “significant gains” in preventive custody in a youth facility: “he blames his actions on drugs and alcohol.”
According to a report filed by the defence and written by an expert in pharmacology, at the time of the incident, Michel had an extremely high blood alcohol level, and was “extremely intoxicated.”
For this reason, Bédard’s judgment said the Crown and the defence agreed that Michel couldn’t have had “the required specific intention to commit a murder” and so he pleaded guilty to manslaughter using a firearm, assault causing injury and aggravated assault.
An adult sentence can be imposed on youths aged 14 to 17 for offences such as murder, manslaughter or attempted murder, and aggravated sexual assault, according to section 61 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The two young men were arrested shortly after Kativik Regional Police Force responded to a disturbance around at House 544 in Kuujjuaraapik around three o’clock in the morning on Feb. 9.
Michel Tooktoo was originally charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, use of a firearm while committing an offense and causing bodily harm in discharging a weapon. Allie Tooktoo originally faced a charge of second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a weapon.
The justice committee in Kuujjuaraapik did not offer the court an opinion on sentencing.