Warning: This report contains details of sexual assaults, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
An NWT Supreme Court judge on Wednesday reluctantly accepted a joint recommendation of a 2.5-year prison sentence for an “untreated” offender’s fourth serious sex crime.
On Canada Day 2019, Frankie James Eyakfwo of Whatì dragged a woman visiting from Nunavut into a downtown Yellowknife alley and raped her. He had only just been released from jail for raping a Fort Smith woman as she slept and was on probation.
“The joint submission I have been presented with … can only be described as being extremely restrained and is likely not the sentence I would have imposed had it not been a joint submission,” said Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau, “given Mr Eyakfwo’s extensive criminal record and especially how soon from his release from his last sentence for a sexual assault that he committed this crime.
“[While he says] in all sincerity that he wants to change his life, he currently does present a serious public safety risk. But I have to follow the law.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a sentencing judge must accept a joint submission unless the sentence proposed would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or is otherwise not in the public interest.
Charbonneau noted Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane and defence lawyer Jessi Casebeer had “carefully and thoroughly explained how they arrived at their decision.”
The sentence will place Eyakfwo into the federal corrections system for the first time, likely at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatchewan.
“I sincerely hope that they are right,” said Charbonneau.
She noted the judge who sentenced Eyakfwo in December 2018 was concerned her sentence of nine months, after applying 21 months of remand credit, would not allow Eyakfwo to access any meaningful programming at Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC).
In her 2018 decision, Justice Shannon Smallwood noted any sex offender or violence prevention programming offered at NSCC requires a basic level of literacy, which Eyakfwo does not have.
The court had heard Eyakfwo suffers from “brain atrophy” either due to the use of alcohol by his mother during pregnancy or because he contracted meningitis as an infant.
“Unfortunately, those concerns proved justified,” said Charbonneau, noting Eyakfwo was granted early release from NSCC in June 2019.
“Without doubt, this is a very sad and difficult case.”
Tools and understanding
Charbonneau noted Eyakfwo’s first conviction was in 2003 – he was 14 years old at the time – when he committed “a very serious” sexual assault on a child. He was convicted of another sexual assault in 2005, and his criminal record also includes several entries for violent crimes.
Eyakfwo’s background was described as being troubling, growing up in a violent household with alcohol abuse present.
Eyakfwo was sexually abused by one or more relatives and exposed by his father to inappropriate sexual materials.
“This was a child who needed intervention [by social services], needed help, but unfortunately, it did not happen,” said Charbonneau.
She noted the family’s refusal to release their child – they hid him at one point – could be associated with the legacy of residential schools.
The NWT sentencing starting point for a person found guilty after trial of a major sexual assault is three years.
Charbonneau noted mitigating factors she had to consider included Eyakfwo’s guilty plea, his Indigenous background, and his cognitive limitations.
She said Eyakfwo had again spent significant time in remand – he has been behind bars since his arrest in June 2020 – which, at sentencing, is credited as 1.5 days for every day served.
The judge warned “this is his last chance” as, if he commits a further serious crime, he will have to be considered for a long-term or dangerous offender designation.
While Eyakfwo and his family – he does have the support of his mother and sister – might not want him to serve his sentence so far away, having access to proper programming is crucial if he ever wants to live a life outside a jail cell, the judge said.
The judge noted Eyakfwo enjoys being out on the land and displays great skill as an artist. Some of his work had been submitted to her as exhibits for sentencing.
“Whatì will still be there for him when he is released … and hopefully he will go back with more tools and a better understanding of what he needs to do – and what not to do – to never harm himself or another person again,” she said.
‘Not a fit sentence’
Charbonneau sentenced Eyakfwo to 38.5 months less remand credit of 8.5 months for a total of 30 months.
He will be prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years, be on the national sex offenders’ registry for life, and have to supply another DNA sample for the crime databank.
She wanted the record to note it was “not a fit sentence” for a major sexual assault in this jurisdiction and anyone looking at it must appreciate the unique circumstances.
After she closed court, Eyakfwo’s lawyer asked Charbonneau if she would accept a drawing her client had done as a gift for her.
“Thank you, Mr Eyakfwo. This has never happened before – I’m not sure I can accept it,” Charbonneau said. “Judges have to be very careful about accepting offerings.”
She did look at the work – which was not shown to the court – before saying she would have it attached to his file.
She ordered an expedited transcript of her sentence decision, along with Justice Smallwood’s 2018 decision and the extensive pre-sentence report, so federal authorities would have it soon to help with his placement.