Victor Shane Ugyuk could face six years in prison for killing Mark Poodlat outside Yellowknife’s downtown day shelter and sobering centre.
The drunken attack, in broad daylight on September 3, 2019, shook nearby residents and business owners. It was caught on a surveillance camera across the street.
On Monday, Crown prosecutor Angie Paquin told a Supreme Court sentencing hearing the public needs to be protected from Ugyuk, 33, whose lengthy criminal record has 44 entries – 18 for crimes of violence – and had him on two probation orders at the time of the killing.
“He has a very consistent violent crime record … he has spent most of the last 13 years in custody,” Paquin told the court.
“He has to be imprisoned not only for what has done, but also to protect other people from what he will likely do in the future.”
Though the homicide was filmed, the Crown made a plea deal with Ugyuk six months after the incident, reducing his murder charge to manslaughter in exchange for his early guilty plea.
Paquin said this made it possible to avoid the “cost and time” of holding a preliminary inquiry and a possible jury trial that would prolong closure for the families of those involved.
Paquin acknowledged there are significant background factors in Ugyuk’s life that made manslaughter and six years the appropriate conviction and sentence.
These include several compelling Gladue factors, which refer to the court’s need to take into account the Indigenous heritage of an accused.
The court heard the maximum sentence for manslaughter is life, with no minimum sentence unless a firearm was used.
‘Never a consensual fight’
Ugyuk and Poodlat, 35, were cousins. Poodlat’s mother was in court on Monday and tears came to her eyes when her nephew stood and apologized for killing her son.
“I apologize to the victim’s mother. It was not my intention to do that to Mark,” the man said clearly.
“We did have our ups and downs together … if I could do it all again, I just would have walked away.”
Homeless, addicted, and off his psychotropic medication, Ugyuk was “engaged” by Poodlat outside the shelter, his cousin taunting him and a group of men by calling them “the Three Stooges,” said the prosecutor, reading from an agreed statement of facts.
“The accused was somewhat taunted by the victim, but it did not amount to provocation. There was never a consensual fight.”
In fact, Poodlat held his arms at his side when Ugyuk approched him and dealt the lethal blows.
In the silent video played in court, Ugyuk can be seen assaulting Poodlat three times over six minutes, landing a total of eight blows to his face and head.
In the first assault, Poodlat fell to the ground but did not hit his head. He rose, but was unsteady. Almost a minute later, Ugyuk came at Poodlat again, hitting him once in the face. A female bystander intervened and Ugyuk walked away.
Other people can be seen quickly leaving the area, while some – including Poodlat – can be seen going in and out of the front door of the shelter.
Ugyuk returned three minutes later and delivered three blows to Poodlat’s head, with Poodlat not defending himself.
“Mr Poodlat fell to the ground, attempted to push himself up, then collapsed,” said Paquin.
“Mr Poodlat remained on the ground and never stood up again.”
As Poodlat lay on the sidewalk, a crowd began to form and shelter staff emerged to provide care for the stricken man.
Ugyuk can be seen riding a bicycle on the street, past his mortally wounded cousin, before leaving the area.
An ambulance showed up in about 10 minutes. The court heard Poodlat was taken to Stanton Territorial Hospital before being transferred to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, where he died the following day.
That same day, Ugyuk was located by RCMP near the CBC building on Forrest Drive. He was uncooperative after being arrested, said Paquin.
In a statement to police, Ugyuk said he was drunk at the time of the incident the previous day and did not recall it well.
“He remembers Mark Poodlat ‘telling him stuff’ but he did not remember specifics,” said Paquin, reading Ugyuk’s statement.
“He tried to walk away, but it got under his skin and he just punched him out.
“He said he had punched him out before and nothing happened. He said he just wanted him to shut up.”
Poodlat’s death followed months of debate over the role of the day shelter and sobering centre in treating people living with addictions, violence, and homelessness.
The killing sparked renewed calls for urgent change in and around the facility, which had opened one year earlier.
Paquin noted Ugyuk lived a tragic life that started in his childhood in Nunavut, where he was raised by an aunt and uncle, his mother being residential school survivor who struggled with alcoholism.
In February 2012, Ugyuk’s partner – Sarah Aiyout, 24 – died in a house fire in the community of Taloyoak, Nunavut. The fire claimed the lives of his sons Victor Jr, four, and Jordee, two. Aiyout was pregnant with her third child.
RCMP later determined the fire was deliberately set by Aiyout and deemed the incident a murder-suicide.
Ugyuk was in a transient lifestyle in Yellowknife at the time, but many members of his home community blamed him for his wife’s actions due to their violent relationship, said Paquin.
“The Crown can hardly imagine more compelling personal circumstances,” said the prosecutor. “There are really no words to describe the atrocity of the tragedy he went through.”
In the years to follow, said Paquin, Ugyuk was diagnosed with several disorders, including alcoholism, and spent time in medical lock-up for several psychiatric issues, including suicidal ideations and anger.
Decision on Friday
In addition to the six years, Paquin also asked Justice Louise Charbonneau to impose a DNA collection order, a lifetime weapons ban, and a no-contact order with Poodlat’s mother.
“Mr Ugyuk is on track for a dangerous or long-term offender application if he doesn’t change his ways,” said Paquin.
Poodlat’s mother did provide the court with a victim impact statement she asked not to be read to the public.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran asked the judge to impose a sentence of between 3.5 and 4.5 years, to be served in a prison in the south, where his client would have better access to counselling and programs.
“As long as he can remember, there has always been violence in his life; a victim of violence, a witness to violence; or having to protect himself,” said Bran.
“There are people in his life who love him and want to support him, but they say he has to deal with his issues first.
“He doesn’t want to have a violent lifestyle any more.”
Bran characterized the Crown’s suggestion of a six-year sentence as “excessive” and “crushing.”
Ugyuk had amassed 534 days of remand custody as of Monday. Charbonneau reserved her decision until Friday afternoon.