A Northwest Territories judge was persuaded by Joanasie Qumuaqtuq’s young age and personal circumstances to accept a “lenient” joint submission for two armed robberies and the assault of a jail guard.
NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau said it was “pretty awful” having to send a 22-year-old man to prison for 4.5 years, but she hoped it would provide Qumuaqtuq the opportunity to seek help with managing his mental illness. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“I want to be very clear that the sentence I am imposing should not be considered as having any precedential value in future cases involving armed robberies or assaults of a correctional officer, or other person[s] who work in correctional institutions,” Charbonneau said. “[A joint submission] considerably reduces the discretion I have in sentencing … I must follow a joint submission, except in very exceptional circumstances.”
Qumuaqtuq’s defence lawyer and the Crown prosecutor agreed to the 4.5-year sentence, which they presented to the judge.
“I think counsel recognize … the joint submission is a very restrained position and is at the lower end of what could be imposed, considering the circumstances of the offences and Mr. Qumuaqtuq’s record,” Charbonneau said.
The judge said she also took into account Qumuaqtuq’s Indigenous heritage, as required by law. He is Inuit and originally from Nunavut.
Qumuaqtuq pleaded guilty to twice robbing a clerk at knifepoint at the Circle K – formerly Mac’s – convenience store in Yellowknife on Forest Drive in 2019. Two counts of wearing a disguise during those robberies were dropped.
Qumuaqtuq also admitted to assaulting a guard at the North Slave Correctional Complex and threatening to harm the man’s children.
The plea deal saw the Crown withdraw separate charges related to assaulting a guard and the psychologist at the jail. Though those charges could be considered by the sentencing judge, they will not appear on Qumuaqtuq’s criminal record.
Credit for time served
The only discretion Charbonneau had was with the amount of time Qumuaqtuq would received for pre-trial credit.
A credit of up to 1.5 days can be granted for every day an accudes person serves before trial. As some of Qumuaqtuq’s crimes involved bad behaviour while incarcerated, Charbonneau reduced that credit.
Qumuaqtuq tallied 13 months waiting for Thursday’s sentencing. He will be granted 16 months credit for time served in pre-trial custody.
Charbonneau sentenced Qumuaqtuq to four years for each robbery, to be served at the same time. Charbonneau then added six months onto that sentence for the assault.
In total, with credit for time served, Qumuaqtuq was sentenced to three years and two months in prison.
He will also have to submit a DNA sample to the national crime databank and is banned from possessing a firearm for ten years.
Publication ban denied
In an unusual move, Qumuaqtuq asked for a publication ban at the very end of the sentencing hearing.
Charbonneau denied that request.
“When cases are reported on … it [is] so the people who can’t come to court [can see what happened],” she said. “It’s important that the public know that the decisions are just made in secret and not just made for arbitrary reasons.
“That’s why I have just talked for half an hour. Some people will think the sentence is too light, others will think it is too harsh. That is why I try to do my best to explain why I make the decisions that I have made.”