Robin James Kelly was on a four-day alcohol and crack cocaine binge when he walked into the First Nations Bank in downtown Yellowknife, flashed a knife, and demanded money.
Kelly, now 35, wore a hoodie with his face mostly covered by a neck warmer, a Territorial Court heard on Wednesday. He entered the bank at noon on February 13, 2019, carrying a black reusable shopping bag.
“Mr Kelly was met in the bank by an employee, who said she could help him at a counter,” Crown prosecutor Blair McPherson said at a sentencing hearing by phone. The court system no longer has lawyers appearing in person as a precaution against Covid-19.
“Mr Kelly followed the employee to the counter and then took out a knife and showed it to her and said, ‘Open, open.’ The employee opened the till and allowed Mr Kelly to access the cash inside.”
As Kelly grabbed loose bills and rolls of cash – US $200 and Can $165 – another employee called RCMP.
Kelly fled the bank and walked a few blocks to the Liquor Store on 49 Street, where he purchase a mickey.
Kelly, originally from Fort Good Hope, is a father of three children with his partner expecting their fourth. He had owned a home renovation company before becoming addicted to alcohol and cocaine.
Appearing via video link from North Slave Correctional Complex, he expressed remorse for his actions.
“I want to apologize to all the employees who were at the First Nations Bank when the robbery happened,” he said. “I’m truly sorry I had to put them through some – I can’t imagine what I put them through, and how scared they were that day.
“I’m so sorry I did that. I wish they had it in their hearts to forgive me for what happened on that day.”
Teller: ‘I feel better, but it was a shock’
The teller was sitting in the public gallery for the hearing. She thought she might be called to present a victim impact statement.
Outside court, she told Cabin Radio she might eventually be able to forgive Kelly.“
I think he realizes that it was wrong and he is well aware of what he has done,” said the woman, noting it was the first time she had been robbed while working at the bank.
“I feel better, but it was a shock. For a while, every guy who would come towards me, I would freak out. Not show to them, but freak out [in her mind].
“I hope in the future, he gets help for his addiction and that he won’t do that again. Ever.”
The employee said her training kicked in when she realized she was being robbed. She “stepped back” and let Kelly take what he wanted as police were called.
“Just take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me,” she recalled thinking to herself at the time.
The prosecutor told the court some of the cash Kelly grabbed was a “decoy bundle.” The bank had recorded the serial numbers of each bill so they could later be tracked.
Crime ‘to feed addiction’
The defence and Crown submitted a joint sentencing recommendation of two years less one day – taking into account remand credit he had built up – so Kelly could avoid the federal prison system and serve his sentence in a territorial jail.
This would also allow the court to impose a period of supervised probation, where Kelly could access treatment and counselling.
“This isn’t a crime done out of greed, but very much a crime done in order to feed a drug and alcohol addiction,” said McPherson, noting Kelly’s upbringing was fraught with challenges as his parents were residential school survivors.
“[The pre-sentence report] is very much a Gladue story, and it informs his moral culpability. That is not to take away from the seriousness of the crime.
“The [report] mentions the effect on the victim … the effect of the robbery on her and [the other employees] … it was a risk of violence at their workplace. They all have to continue working at the bank with this in the background, that this had happened to them.”
The Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, orders sentencing judges to consider systemic or background factors when Indigenous offenders appear in court.
Home reno business
Kelly grew up in the Sahtu community of Fort Good Hope and was exposed to alcohol and violence at a young age before his parents stopped drinking. He and his partner moved to Yellowknife to get away from the alcohol-related problems in Fort Good Hope and Kelly worked as a labourer and carpenter, the court heard.
Kelly and his partner bought a house and he started a home renovation business. But a couple of years ago, it was mostly problems with the business that drove Kelly – and eventually his partner – to alcohol and drugs.
“Things just started to spiral out of control,” said McPherson.
Kelly’s wife told a social worker she hopes the family can benefit from counselling and get back on track, as their home is being foreclosed on by the bank and she is struggling to get by financially.
In considering Kelly’s sentence, Judge Christine Gagnon took into account Kelly’s relatively minor criminal record. She accepted the joint recommendation for two years less a day and decided on a 12-month period of supervised probation to follow.
Kelly is also forbidden to attend the First Nations Bank.
He will have a DNA sample sent to the national crime databank. He will be prohibited from possessing a firearm for 10 years.
Kelly will be in court again on June 10 for an unrelated trial regarding charges of assault causing bodily harm and two breaches of court orders. Details of that case weren’t immediately available.