Sentencing arguments continue for Whitehorse bar shooter

Police tape at the scene of a shooting in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 1, 2019. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

By Virginie Ann · CBC News

Malakal Tuel was found guilty in February of several charges related to 2019 shooting outside bar

Whether Malakal Tuel’s traumatic past as a child soldier in Sudan during the civil war should impact his sentence was at the centre of Monday’s final sentencing arguments at the Yukon courthouse.

Tuel, 39, was found guilty last February on nine counts — including aggravated assault, discharging a prohibited firearm with intent to wound and possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. The charges were related to shooting John Thomas (JT) Papequash in December 2019, outside The Local Bar in Whitehorse.

The first round of sentencing arguments revealed in August that Tuel was forced to join military training camp at the age of eight, where he was prepared to “kill the enemy.” Shortly after, he went to combat where he had to “shoot his friends if they were injured.”

Tuel also testified in August about several instances of racism after moving to Canada — including finding himself often being the only Black man in his surrounding. On the night of the shooting, the bartender allegedly called him the N-word and asked him to leave.

Tuel was arrested shortly after the shooting. He’s been in custody at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre ever since.

What triggered Tuel to shoot Papequash remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Papequash, who was in the court room on Monday along with several supporters, suffered massive brain trauma. The Crown described Papequash as someone who lost the ability to coparent, as well as to pass on his connection to the land to his children.

Papequash, a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, used to go out on the land to hunt, said Crown prosecutor Leo Lane.

“He was robbed of his connection to the land,” Lane said, adding that Papequash can’t go out anymore by himself as he lost his right eye.

The weight of the past  

While acknowledging Tuel’s “horrifying” childhood, the Crown advised against speculating on a connection between the crime he committed and his personal history, or that because he suffered in the past, his sentence should be lessened.

“His personal tragedy is far from having a clear connection to what he did in 2019,” Lane said on Monday.

Lane argued Tuel is a “refugee success story,” pointing to several examples of how Tuel became well-adjusted after he moved to Canada — including going to college, starting his own carpentry company and financially supporting his children.

Defence lawyer Dale Fedorchuk strongly disagreed.

He argued Tuel never received the proper support to treat the trauma from his childhood.

Fedorchuk added that, while not being an excuse, it should reduce the blame “based on the current trend in sentencing.” He argued Tuel’s history, intergenerational trauma and how it might have contributed to the offence committed is crucial to understand in order to craft an appropriate and informed sentence.

“Tuel is an individual who’s ready to be helped,” Fedorchuk said.

Both lawyers disagree on the amount of prison time Fedorchuk should receive.

Lane asked that Tuel be given around nine years in prison. Fedorchuk argued Tuel’s sentence should be “time served” — meaning the sentence should be the same as the time Tuel has already spent in jail.

A date for Tuel’s sentence will be set on Tuesday.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Class action lawsuit on behalf of Nunavik crime victims gets the go-ahead, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News

United States: Violence Against Women bill would expand power of up to 30 Alaska tribal courts, Alaska Public Media

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