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 suffered from extreme paranoia and psychotic delusions never received the mental health treatment he needed, Justice Bonnie Tulloch said in a sentencing judgment. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

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.

R. v Qirqqut, 2021 NUCJ 4 by NunatsiaqNews

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jeannie on

    This so sad. We have been calling for help over the years with no leaders listening or no action taken. Yes, there are Metal Health workers but they are always changing staff. We need loccaly trained people to be there as an out reach worker who understands.

    • Posted by Psych on

      It sounds like this young man has something in the range of paranoid schizophrenia and would have needed a real doctor, preferably a psychiatrist. Mental health nurses are not equipped to deal with this level of illness, though they should recognize the severity of it they are actually trained psych-nurses. I don’t know what an outreach worker is but it doesn’t sound like a position that could do much in a case like this.

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    If he was prescribed anti-psychotic medication for paranoid schizophrenia and didn’t take them to control his psychotic episodes then he needs to be held accountable for his behaviours and actions.

    • Posted by Forever Amazed on

      I agree with you. There was a case several years ago in Manitoba wherein a young man was beheaded on a bus. The person got off because he was declared not criminally responsible for his act. I am still outraged by this – there was no accountability for his behavior and actions.

      • Posted by Also amazed and frustrated ! ! on

        I remember that story about the young man being killed on the bus and later the medical
        and the legal people let the murderer go free, with all kinds of airy-fairy excuses.
        I think the young man in Gjoa Haven should be in southern institution receiving proper
        treatment. It is obvious he has deep mental problems.
        I know, through tragic family experience, what I am talking about. My own son, suicide.
        It is a problem getting qualified people to stay in the north, so we should send people
        with problems south. Better than them dying !
        Very hard but very necessary. Go ahead experts, tell me I am wrong.
        I say this for the well-being of the mentally ill, and for the community’s protection.

        • Posted by Matter of population on

          Like many people in Nunavut, I would like too see a well established, well staffed treatment
          centre in each of the regions for the mentally ill people.
          I have heard that the cost would be too much for Nunavut region, that is why people are
          sent south. I wonder what the cost would be ?
          My cousin in Europe has been on mental health medication for 50 years. He gets his daily
          treatment, at the clinic which is about 1 mile from his flat. If he misses they are on it right
          away. About 150,000 people live in that small town, that’s why a good clinic.
          Of course free will is a good thing, but some mental people have no idea what they are
          doing and thus sad consequences.
          Some of us Inuit people are considering moving south, to get better housing, education.
          and medical treatment. Why not ? Our leaders are doing it !
          Living independently off the land has long gone, such is the way.

  3. Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

    The health care system failed this young man. Sounds like he probably has paranoid schizophrenia and should not be held criminally responsible. There is very little access to Dr psychiatrists for mentally ill people in Nunavut to diagnose and follow up with patients on a regular basis and adjust medications, or change them if need be. Yes they have to be on medication for life and there are monthly injections that they can take. it is the responsibility of the health carte system to ensure that the patients come in for their injections once a month and follow up with the patient if they dont. These patients are ill and cannot make informed decisions on regularly taking their meds. if need be these patients should be hospitalized to stabilize them first. people with mental illnesses are let down in Nunavut big time!!!! This is discriminatory and unacceptable in Canada. there should be an inquiry, or commission to review our poor mental health care in Nunavut. condolences to the family who lost a loved one, so tragic.

    • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

      People have free will and can choose not to take their medications but If they choose not to they are accountable for their actions. It is not the responsibility of the department of health to force people to take their medications/treatment.

      • Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

        Yes it is true that the health department cannot force someone to take their meds but they can follow up with the patient and ask them why they do not want to take their meds, pehaps it is because it has really bad side effects on that person ( every one reacts differently to meds), at this point the Dr can prescribe another med and ask the patient if they want to try it. Also, they can explain to the patient if they refuse any meds, that they will relapse

      • Posted by iThink on

        With respect, Crystal, ‘free will’ is a woolly concept at the best of times, some suggest it is an incoherent one. Certainly, in cases of severe mental illness it is that much more so.

        Of course, our intuitions around personal volition and freedom are deeply rooted around concepts that matter to us, like justice and economic outcomes, but upon close inspection this becomes a troubled one.

        As it would take a lot of space to discuss this here instead let me offer up the thoughts of some prominent thinkers on the topic:

        Steven Pinker

        Sam Harris

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