'You almost killed someone': Nunavut man sentenced to 2 years for firing gun at house

A Nunavut judge sentenced a Baker Lake man to two years less a day in jail for shooting a rifle at a house, narrowly missing an occupant.

Judge finds mandatory minimum sentence for gun crime would breach Cedric Ookowt's Charter rights

In the 2017 sentencing, Nunavut Justice Earl D. Johnson told Cedric Ookowt that what he did was 'very, very serious.' (Nick Murray/CBC)

A 20-year-old Baker Lake man escaped a mandatory four-year jail sentence for reckless use of a gun after a Nunavut judge ruled the punishment would be "grossly disproportionate" to the crime.

The four-year mandatory minimum sentence would be in line with federal legislation passed in 2008.

According to a sentencing document released Friday, Cedric Ookowt pleaded guilty to recklessly discharging a firearm on June 26, 2016. He also pleaded guilty to one charge each of dangerous driving and evading a police officer, from incidents dating to April 28 of that year. He had been under order to keep the peace from the April charges when the June incident happened.

The decision, given by Nunavut Court of Appeal Justice Earl D. Johnson on Sept. 22, 2017, was released Friday.

According to court documents, Ookowt was extremely intoxicated when he took his father's .22-250 calibre rifle, climbed a hill overlooking the house of a man he says bullied him and fired one shot into the window of the house, narrowly missing another occupant of the house by a few inches.

Ookowt had no criminal record prior to the charges he faced in 2016.

He testified he'd been bullied by the man since he was 12 or 13 years old, and that the bullying had increased the year before the shooting incident.

Constitutional challenge

On the day of the incident, Ookowt testified the man had jumped him from behind and stole his alcohol, evidence Justice Johnson took into consideration in his sentencing.

Crown lawyers argued Ookowt should face the four-year mandatory minimum sentence, but the defence filed a constitutional challenge, arguing four years would be "grossly disproportionate" to the facts of the case.

To make his judgment, Johnson considered four factors: the gravity of the offence; circumstances of the offence; the actual effect of the punishment on the offender and the underlying principles of the sentence.

He took into consideration the fact Ookowt was an Indigenous first offender who practises a traditional hunting lifestyle.

"He is a skilled hunter and provides food to his family and other elders of the community," said Johnson.

"He also generates money from the sale of furs. In fact, he left Grade 11 or 12 to pursue this lifestyle and has been very helpful to his family and the community."

Johnson also took into consideration Ookowt had no criminal record, entered an early guilty plea and appeared to be a good candidate for rehabilitation.

"In all of the circumstances, a sentence of 18 months to two years less a day would be appropriate and the [mandatory minimum] double that length is grossly disproportionate," said Johnson, who concluded the four-year sentence would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Crown has already appealed the ruling.

In total, there have been four instances in which a Canadian judge has ruled against the four-year minimum — the most recent being an N.W.T. judge earlier this month.

'What you did was very, very serious'

Johnson sentenced Ookowt to two years less a day in Nunavut jail, with a credit of 1.5 days for each day he spent in custody. That left a 54-day sentence.

Ookowt was also sentenced to 12 months probation, including 50 hours of community service. He must abstain from alcohol, and take counselling.

"What you did was very, very serious," Johnson told Ookowt at the sentencing.

"You almost killed someone. I want you to remember that for the rest of your life."