A 37-year-old’s threat to crash an aircraft if he were sent to Yellowknife for detention has landed the man in jail – though for much less time than the Crown sought.
Aside from that threat, Edwin Joseph Avik also ripped a microphone and telephone out of the wall at an RCMP detachment after objecting to his latest arrest during a hearing in June.
On Friday, NWT Territorial Court Judge Donovan Molloy said the Crown’s attempt to have Avik sent to a federal prison was “grossly disproportionate to the circumstances of this offence and inconsistent with recognized sentencing principles.”
While Avik has a lengthy criminal record and has spent most of his adult life behind bars, Molloy said there were significant mitigating factors as he sentenced Avik to four months in jail.
“I believe the sober Mr Avik that appeared before me genuinely is sorry, recognizes that what he does while impaired is wrong, and knows he needs help and or treatment,” Molloy said in reading his decision.
“His propensity toward violence when impaired makes him a significant risk to the community, given the lack of any effective interventions to address the trauma he has suffered and his related addictions and substance abuse issues.
“Regardless of whatever potential the Crown believes there is for Mr Avik to be declared a dangerous or long-term offender in the future, it cannot in the interim obtain inordinately long sentences for Mr Avik for minor summary conviction offences such as the one here.”
Molloy also queried the territorial government’s policy of sending people seeking treatment to recovery centres in southern Canada.
“I am putting it in the [sentencing] order that you go to treatment, but it is not lost on me that you would have to go south for that,” he told Avik.
“It is not lost on me that the connection of Indigenous people, and yourself included, in the territories to their communities is extremely strong. And it is no small sacrifice to have to go to Edmonton or Vancouver or wherever it is – where you may not know a living soul, where you are in an environment that is completely foreign and hostile – and then in that environment, under those conditions, be told to go to a healing program and heal yourself.”
The territorial government maintains northern treatment centres have always failed in the past because staffing comparable to southern facilities is difficult to obtain, while some patients express dislike for receiving treatment locally, where they may know fellow patients or staff members.
‘A release from who he was becoming’
NWT judges have twice this year rejected a “disproportionate sentence” the Crown said was necessary to separate Avik from society.
In January, after pleading guilty to five offences committed in Inuvik in October 2019 – assault, failure to abstain from alcohol as ordered, threatening to kill a police officer and a jail guard, and mischief to a jail cell – Judge Garth Malakoe said if nothing was done to help Avik, he would continue to offend.
“Mr Avik, as an adult, carries trauma which results from the prolonged and horrific abuse that he was subjected to as a child,” Malakoe said at the time.
“According to expert evidence before the court, the trauma has affected his ability to self-regulate. He is reactive, impulsive, angry, and lacking in insight and good judgment. The trauma and this resultant behaviour explains, in large part, his criminal activity.”
Avik and his two siblings were raised in an environment where their parents abused alcohol and drugs and where their father was often incarcerated, court documents show.
At a relatively young age, Avik was adopted by his birth mother’s parents – who were residential school survivors – and he lived mostly in Tuktoyaktuk. At 12, he was removed from the home and placed in foster care after being subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of many of his relatives.
Avik lived in various foster homes as well as Yellowknife’s Territorial Treatment Centre.
In January, Judge Malakoe said Avik “did not feel comfort and safety in his own home due to the emotional, physical, and mental abuse that he was exposed to on a daily basis.
“He used to smoke weed and drink on a daily basis, which he felt was a release from what and who he was becoming. He says if [he] had the chance, he would like to be reborn and rid himself of the shame, guilt, and regrets that he lives with on a daily basis.”
The Crown in January wanted a sentence long enough to send Avik to a federal prison, where a higher level of trauma-related programming would be available. The federal system also has a process that integrates offenders back into the community.
The defence stated even the federal system does not have the ability to provide treatment for trauma, but can only provide skills for dealing with the effects of trauma when they arise.
Malakoe said he could not justify sending Avik to federal prison, instead giving him a sentence of jail followed by house arrest and probation. He was to take any residential treatment program recommended by his probation officer, with an emphasis on trauma recovery.
Avik has had some success in recent years working with a psychologist who uses eye movement desensitization reprocessing, or EMDR therapy, while he is in jail. That treatment is funded through Health Canada’s Indian Residential School Program.
Breaching the no-alcohol condition of his sentence in June brought Avik before the court this week. He faced charges of threatening to damage the aircraft and mischief, though the Crown withdrew the mischief charge in exchange for Avik’s guilty plea.
Molloy said any sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and offender’s degree of responsibility. The Crown again did not ask the court to declare Avik a dangerous or long-term offender.
Crown prosecutor Billi Wun asked for an 18-month sentence. Defence lawyer Peter Adourian argued a suspended sentence of a short period of imprisonment would be appropriate, as there was no ability for Avik to carry out his threat to crash the plane.
Molloy sentenced Avik to four months in jail followed by 18 months’ supervised probation. The judge told Avik he must abstain from “being under the influence of alcohol to any degree when outside of your primary residence.”
He is also to attend counselling and other programming as directed by his probation officer, including a treatment program approved by the territorial government.