A Fort Good Hope man who assaulted two other residents with axes after his snowmachines were set on fire has been sentenced to five years in prison.
NWT Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar noted what he called “odd circumstances” in Christopher Shae’s case. Shae, 49, “has a particularly isolated life in a small community,” Mahar told a Yellowknife courtroom on Thursday.
With credit for time served while in custody, Shae will have three and a half years of his sentence left to serve. Crown prosecutor Jill Andrews and defence attorney Robin Parker made a joint submission for the five-year sentence.
Homeless and lacking family connections, Shae was residing with permission in a house without electricity or running water in Fort Good Hope in 2018. On the evening of September 15, Shae said he awoke to see his two snowmachines on fire in his yard and a man walking away from them.
Parker told the court Shae became “enraged,” thinking the man had lit them on fire. He armed himself with two axes and went to the man’s residence.
He then struck the man with an axe more than once, as well as striking the man’s common-law spouse in the forehead, Andrews said. The brother of the man’s common-law spouse intervened, arming himself with a wooden stick.
Both victims suffered “significant head wounds,” while the man’s skull was also fractured, the court heard. The man and his common-law spouse were medevaced to Edmonton – neither remembers anything of the incidents that night, Andrews added.
The prosecutor called it a “vicious and senseless attack,” saying it was only “pure luck” the victims survived and Shae wasn’t being sentenced for a more serious crime.
After the attack, a friend said Shae told him he had “taken two souls.” Shae has no memory of saying this, though he did admit to the facts laid out by the Crown.
Neither of the people Shae attacked were in court on Thursday, nor were any statements on their behalf read out.
While what happened leading up to the attack is not clear, Parker said police photographed Shae with bruises on his body indicating “something happened to Mr Shae that night.” Shae said he remembered drinking earlier in the evening with the man he later attacked, then being beaten and followed by him. All of the people involved in the assault had been drinking that night, the court heard.
Shae and the man had some form of interaction before September 15, Parker said. Shae said the man had told him he would light his snowmachines on fire.
It’s not clear if the mystery of who set the snowmachines alight was ever solved. No reference was made to any definitive culprit at Thursday’s hearing.
Speaking to Justice Mahar, Shae said he regretted his actions and offered apologies to the victims, their families, and his community.
“I’ve been just without hope,” he said about his life before he was able to get the two snowmachines and use them to earn a living. He said he plans to take programs in prison and stay sober.
The snowmachines and what they represented were significant, both the defence and Justice Mahar said, as they represented a possibility for Shae to provide for himself during the winter season and lift himself out of homelessness and poverty.
Shae has a “three-page long” record, the Crown noted, which includes firearms charges and violent crimes including assault and sexual assault. His record stretches from 1989 to the latest charge of assault and sexual assault in 2017. He was on probation at the time of the attack.
Parker spoke at length about Shae’s difficult life circumstances. As a young child, Shae witnessed violence and “extreme alcohol addiction” in his parents, who were both residential school survivors, as well as “poverty, neglect and hunger.” He spent time in foster care, during which he was separated from his sister, and where he suffered abuse.
A brighter time in his life was when he lived with his grandparents. In his words, they “lived on the rhythm of the land.” However, both died in 1993 and Shae subsequently suffered financial hardship, isolation, and alcohol addiction. Parker noted that Shae had neither the financial resources nor the actual facilities in Fort Good Hope to deal with his addiction.
After a life of trauma, Shae told his lawyer he dreams of building his own log cabin and living on the land.
“I love being out on the land. It clears the mind and there are a lot of surprises out there that are worth it,” he told the court.
Mahar granted Shae the ability to apply for an exemption to the firearms ban placed on him as part of his sentence. “It is dangerous being out in the bush without a firearm,” Mahar added.