Victor Shane Ugyuk is a “danger to others” and will spend five and a half years in prison for killing a man outside Yellowknife’s downtown sobering centre, a Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday.
Acknowledging Ugyuk has endured a tragic life and was remorseful for killing Mark Poodlat, Justice Louise Charbonneau also noted his extensive record of violence: he was on two probation orders when he punched his cousin several times, leaving him to die on the sidewalk.
“He has known for a long time that his violence causes harm,” said the NWT’s chief justice.
The September 3, 2019 incident between the two intoxicated men was caught on a video surveillance system mounted on the roof of a business across the street from the combined day shelter and sobering centre.
Charbonneau said it was rare for the Crown to have a crime caught on video – it made for a strong case – but Ugyuk’s early guilty plea to manslaughter proved his remorse regarding the crime while avoiding the cost of a trial and additional emotional stress on the victim’s friends and family.
Charbonneau said she reviewed the video again while formulating her sentence decision. “It is chilling to watch,” said the judge.
Ugyuk, 32, responded to being taunted and called a name by Poodlat, 35, and struck his face and head eight times in three attacks over six minutes. An autopsy later showed Poodlat died from bleeding and swelling of his brain.
Being almost three times the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving contributed his injuries, as intoxicated people can be more prone to head and neck injuries.
Charbonneau said she noticed in the video that several onlookers seemed unfazed by the violent incident.
“Aside from the person who intervened during the second attack, no-one seemed to have much of a reaction at any other point during the incident … even as Mr Poodlat collapsed the last time, none of the people around seemed to have any particular reaction either,” she said.
“But soon after, people came out of the sobering centre, went over to Mr Poodlat and must have realized something was seriously wrong with him because from that point on, we can see people looking like they are trying to help him.”
After short while, staff from the sobering centre emerged and tried to render assistance until the ambulance arrived.
‘Grave error to become desensitized’
The Court had heard Ugyuk was homeless, addicted, and off his psychotropic medication at the time of the attack.
The same day as the attack, Ugyuk was located by RCMP near the CBC building on Forrest Drive.
In a statement to police the next day, he admitted hitting Poodlat to “make him shut up,” but did not intend to kill him.
Charbonneau noted that deterring others in the community from committing similar acts of violence figured into her sentencing decision.
“Not everyone who gets punched in the head dies, obviously,” she said, noting fights are all too common in the territory. “There are probably many time when nobody even gets seriously hurt from being struck in this way … Mr Ugyuk said he has punched Mr Poodlat before and nothing happened.
“I expect many people may think [this type of conduct] is no big deal, but punching someone in the face … it would be a grave error to become de-sensitized to it and the harm it can do. It’s even more dangerous when the person being punched is intoxicated.”
Charbonneau said she took Ugyuk’s Inuit ancestry – as required by law – and his tragic personal life story into consideration when formulating his sentence.
Ugyuk’s father refused to be part of his life after he was born, despite the man being a prominent member of a small Nunavut community, said the judge. He was raised by an aunt and uncle, but also partly by his mother, a 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.
Many members of Ugyuk’s home community blamed him for his wife’s actions due to their violent relationship.
Ugyuk subsequently lived transiently in Yellowknife, where he continued to struggle with alcohol and violent lifestyle.
Four years and one month left
Ugyuk showed little emotion throughout the sentencing hearing.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran had previously 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.
Crown prosecutor Angie Paquin had argued for a six-year sentence.
Given he has built one year and five months’ remand time, Ugyuk has four years and one month left to serve.
He will face a lifetime firearms prohibition and be included in the national DNA crime databank.
He will be forbidden to contact Poodlat’s mother.