Michael Nehass

An RCMP mugshot of Michael Nehass, in 2008. (RCMP)

Yukon inmate Michael Nehass, in the Whitehorse jail on an assault conviction, is asking the Yukon Supreme Court to order his release on the grounds that his Charter rights have been violated over the past four years.

Nehass has been in the jail for various offences for about four years. His most recent conviction was last May, on charges of forcible confinement and assault with a weapon. 

But Nehass filed an application to be released because he says his treatment in prison included long periods in isolation.

In court on Monday, Nehass's lawyer had a psychologist review his history, detailing a troubled childhood punctuated by traumatic events.

The psychologist, Peggy Koopman, said Nehass showed signs of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at an early age.

She referred to documents saying he was treated badly after his mother died in car crash, when he was three years old. According to Koopman, Nehass was sexually assaulted by at least two men when he was a small child. He was also exposed to alcohol and drugs early in life, she said.

By the time he was 12, Nehass was showing violent tendencies and had already attempted suicide, Koopman said.

Koopman believes Nehass' mental health worsened during his four years in the Whitehorse jail, likely because of long periods in the isolation unit and other incidents.

She said he showed many symptoms associated with prisoners who are kept in isolation for long periods, such as acting out, bizarre behaviour, depression and anxiety.

Nehass objected to her testimony, denying any mental illness. He wanted his lawyer to focus on how he's been treated while in custody.

"She's making me out as a wingnut," Nehass said in court.

Last week, the Yukon Supreme Court ordered an assessment done on Nehass, to determine whether he should be deemed a dangerous, or long term, offender. That could keep him in prison for an indefinite period of time.

The assessment will be done prior to sentencing for his conviction last May.