Mentally ill Nunavut man gets nearly 5 years for manslaughter after killing stepfather
Gjoa Haven man “tried hard over several years to get help but received very little,” judge says
A Gjoa Haven man who, for years, suffered extreme paranoia and killed his stepfather because voices in his head told him to do it received little or no help from the Government of Nunavut Health Department, Judge Bonnie Tulloch said this week in a sentencing decision.
Clifton Qirqqut, 28, drove a steak knife into the chest of his stepfather, Rex Sallerina, on Nov. 16, 2017. Sallerina died later that day at the Gjoa Haven health centre.
When he killed his stepfather, Qirqqut was in the grip of a psychotic delusion that his mother and stepfather wanted to kill him.
But after years of experiencing such psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations and voices in his head that started at age 16, Qirqqut received no help.
“Limited resources devoted to mental health by the Government of Nunavut played the largest role in Clifton’s actions and Rex’s death,” Tulloch said in her written sentencing decision.
And she said Qirqqut has sought help in vain.
“I pause to note that the record shows that Clifton went to the local health centre in Gjoa Haven himself on several occasions to report these paranoid beliefs in 2015. Nothing was done at that time,” she said.
In 2017, Gjoa Haven suffered from a string of deaths and violent incidents caused by people with mental health problems.
It prompted Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak to rise in the legislative assembly and demand better mental health care for his community, including a mental health facility.
“It has become increasingly difficult for the residents to recover and move on towards healing without professional mental health support,” Akoak said on Sept. 12, 2017.
Akoak backed his demand with letters from Gjoa Haven residents, including the hamlet’s mayor.
Two months after Akoak’s statement in the house, Qirqqut killed Sallerina.
After the killing, Qirqqut was sent to the Brockville Mental Health Centre, an hour south of Ottawa, where he was examined by Dr. Anthony Adiele, a psychiatrist.
Adiele concluded Qirqqut was mentally unfit to stand trial and suffered from an acute psychotic disorder at the time of the offence.
While under Adiele’s care, Qirqqut said he had been hearing voices since the age of 16, and that the voices had instructed him to harm other people and to harm himself.
He also thought other people could hear or read his thoughts.
“Because of this, he stayed in his room and hardly ever left his house,” Tulloch said.
Another psychiatrist, Dr. Hy Bloom, did find Qirqqut fit to stand trial.
That’s because Qirqqut knew the killing was both legally and morally wrong.
“He was, therefore, criminally responsible for his actions,” Tulloch said.
About three years after the killing, on November 16, 2020, Qirqqut pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
On Jan. 26, Tulloch presided over his sentencing hearing and on Jan. 29 released her sentencing judgment.
In it, she sentenced him to time served, which after enhanced credit, equals 1,757 days in jail, or nearly five years.
That is to be followed by a three-year probation period, during which Tulloch recommended Qirqqut take any medication that is prescribed to him at the Gjoa Haven health centre — although he is not required to submit to any treatment or medication to which he does not consent.
But if he doesn’t consent to treatment or medication, he must be monitored every day by a probation officer.
And he must follow another condition: that he “maintain himself” in a manner that does not lead to his acting in a dangerous manner.
He’s also not allowed to be in possession of a knife while eating or preparing food.
In her judgment, Tulloch said repeatedly that Qirqqut had asked for help many times, but never got it.
“Clifton’s pre-sentence report tells the story of a very disturbed and mentally ill young man who tried hard over several years to get help but received very little,” she said.