'Mastermind' behind string of Iqaluit robberies facing minimum of 4 years in prison

Michael Cooper-Flaherty, the 'mastermind' behind a string of Iqaluit robberies in late 2014 to early 2015, is facing a minimum of four years in prison after pleading guilty.

Michael Cooper-Flaherty co-opted teens to rob Iqaluit businesses, court hears

Michael Cooper-Flaherty, pleaded guilty last August to four counts of robbery. In three of those cases, he co-opted teenagers to rob convenience stores around the city

The man behind a string of Iqaluit robberies from Nov. 2014 to April 2015 may not be heading immediately to prison to serve his sentence, if he gets his way.

Michael Cooper-Flaherty, 20, pleaded guilty last August to four counts of robbery. In three of those cases, he co-opted teenagers to rob convenience stores around the city. He's been in pre-trial custody for nearly two years.

One of the charges included a pair of gunpoint robberies of a local KFC-Quickstop, which itself carries a four-year minimum prison sentence.

Cooper-Flaherty sobbed as he read an apology letter to the court.

"I'm truly sorry for what I've done and I take full responsibility for my actions," Cooper-Flaherty said.

"I've had very long to think about what I've done. I know what I did was completely wrong and nothing I say or do can justify it.

"When I committed the first robbery, it was mostly impulse mixed with anger and frustration and also trying to prove to my friends I was capable of doing it. It sounds stupid, I know, but that's an honest answer."

'Mastermind' directed spree of robberies

The Crown prosecutor in the case described Cooper-Flaherty as a "mastermind" behind a string of robberies. 

Cooper-Flaherty's first charge stemmed from a robbery in November 2014 where he and a friend snatched a bag of cash as a convenience store manager was making a late-night deposit at a bank. The teens made off with $6,000.

From then on, Cooper-Flaherty left the actual robbing to teens. All of their identities are protected by publication bans.

Another robbery a month later saw Cooper-Flaherty waiting in a taxi outside the Plaza Quickstop as a masked 16-year-old robbed the store at knifepoint for $900. After being arrested, the teen told police Cooper-Flaherty pressured him into the robbery.

Then in February 2015, the Baffin Convenience store in Iqaluit's Plateau neighbourhood was robbed for $1,000 at knifepoint. In that case, a masked 15-year-old was the perpetrator, who later told police Cooper-Flaherty persisted and convinced the teen to rob the store. One of the store's workers, another teen, was also in on the heist.

Finally, in April 2015, the KFC-Quickstop in Iqaluit was robbed twice in a week, both times at gunpoint with a .22 calibre rifle. The teens, two 15-year-olds and an 18-year-old, made off with a total of $1,200.

Cooper-Flaherty provided the gun, and one of the 15-year-olds told police Cooper-Flaherty invited them to his home, and kept asking them to rob the store until they agreed. Cooper-Flaherty had been released on an undertaking when the April robberies happened.

After reading the facts to the court, the Crown recommended a total of five years in prison for all the robberies.

Sentencing delayed 

But during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Cooper-Flaherty's lawyer pitched an unusual proposal for Justice Paul Bychok to consider.

Yoni Rahamim argued his client should only receive a four-year sentence, but that Bychok hold off on sentencing, release Cooper-Flaherty on bail with very strict conditions, and then hand down a sentence at a later date.

Rahamim pitched the idea on the basis that Cooper-Flaherty suffers from a number of mental health issues, including depression and PTSD and wasn't getting treatment while on remand, despite seeking help. Twice, the court heard, he tried dying by suicide. The court also heard how Cooper-Flaherty is at a medium risk to re-offend if his illnesses aren't addressed.

If the court ordered Cooper-Flaherty undergo treatment as part of his bail conditions, Rahamim argued it would increase the chances of Cooper-Flaherty following through with treatment.

"Give him the opportunity to actually go out and do these things," Rahamim said. "Then create checkpoints on days in the future to find out how that has been going."

"In other words, making sure the medical health professional is engaged, the social worker is engaged, and then how things are progressing. So we're still participating in his rehabilitation, without letting go of the reins."

Rahamim argued Cooper-Flaherty would then serve out the remainder of his sentence – he would have a minimum of one year left to serve on a four-year sentence, if given 1½ credit for his time on remand – reintegrating into society.

The case will be back in court in July.