Nunavut MLA Tom Sammurtok was fined $1,500 and banned from driving for a year after pleading guilty to drunk driving in an Iqaluit courtroom today.

"I absolutely feel a big weight has been lifted off me," the Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA said outside of the courtroom.

Tom Sammurtok

Rankin Inlet North MLA Tom Sammurtok was fined $1,500 and banned from driving for a year after pleading guilty to drunk driving in an Iqaluit courtroom. (Courtesy Tom Sammurtok)

"Now that this is all over and done with, I can start moving forward with some of the issues that I would like to bring up in the house."

Sammurtok drove his Ford Escape into a ditch after leaving the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit on April 13. When RCMP officers arrived to help him, Sammurtok backed into the police cruiser.

An officer noticed alcohol on Sammurtok's breath and how he was stumbling when walking. 

A breathalyzer revealed his blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than double the legal limit of 0.08.

This is Sammurtok's first conviction for impaired driving and the minimum fine for a first offence is $1,000. Crown prosecutor Benjamin Flight asked for a higher fine between $1,500 and $2,000 because of how drunk Sammurtok was at the time of the incident.

Sammurtok said he's been to alcohol counselling since the charges were laid and plans to work in his community to educate youth on substance abuse.

"As part of my healing process, I want to help with giving talks at the school with respect to alcohol and maybe even drugs," Sammurtok said.

"Whenever the counsellor is going to the healing centre in Rankin Inlet, I volunteer to go with him to present my side of what I've gone through."

Sammurtok tried unsuccessfully to have some of his fine turned into a charitable donation for the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet,where he went for counselling.

Flight argued against it because it would set a precedent, among other reasons.

"It puts the justice system participants, including the Crown, in an awkward position to vet which charities would be acceptable and which wouldn't," Flight said.

"I fully understand Mr. Sammurtok has the noblest of intents, but there could be an appearance of abuse if this is an acceptable charity, and others are not."

Sammurtok was minister of Community and Government Services at the time of the incident. After charges were laid, he was stripped of his portfolio and he later resigned from cabinet, though he remains an MLA.