Small boats make their way through the Frobisher Bay inlet in Iqaluit on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. Offenders in Nunavut should not get shorter jail sentences because of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Nunavut’s top judge. In a decision released Sept. 17, Neil Sharkey, Nunavut’s chief justice, said while the pandemic should be taken into account when determining a fit sentence, it should not automatically reduce it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Top Nunavut justice says judges can’t be too lenient with sentences during pandemic

The Criminal Code says judges can deduct up to 1 1/2 days from an offender’s sentence

Offenders in Nunavut should not necessarily get shorter jail time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Nunavut’s top judge.

Chief Justice Neil Sharkey says while the pandemic should be taken into account when determining a fit sentence, it should not automatically reduce it.

“I am of the view an informed and sympathetic public does not support the blanket proposition that all jail sentences during the time of COVID-19 should be reduced because of restrictive prison conditions and/or the increased risk of infection of the offender,” Sharkey wrote in a decision released last week.

Nunavut has not had any of its own cases of COVID-19, although three have been brought in by mine workers from outside the territory.

Sharkey also said people in custody waiting for a court appearance during the pandemic should not receive additional credit because the Criminal Code doesn’t allow it.

“I have no jurisdiction to allow additional or enhanced remand credit during COVID-19 beyond that already allowed by the Criminal Code. Only a successful constitutional challenge to the current limitation would allow for additional enhanced remand credit.”

The Criminal Code says judges can deduct up to 1 1/2 days from an offender’s sentence for each day served in remand.

Sharkey did urge sentencing judges in Nunavut to take COVID-19 into account when fixing a sentence.

He said he believes there is public support for the idea that if an offender “has already been punished by an increased risk of exposure to the virus,” then time spent on remand should be a sufficient penalty.

“This is not just the decent and humane thing to do, it also speaks to public health concerns – one less person in remand translated to less risk to the community,” Sharkey wrote.

He suggested an offender would be “getting a discount,” but at the same time, would already have been punished.

“They have already suffered the psychological stress associated with a risk of infection … to a greater degree than the rest of society.”

The approach wouldn’t be appropriate in a case where a lengthy penitentiary sentence would be appropriate, Sharkey noted.

At the centre of Sharkey’s decision is the case of Gordon Pangon, 27, who pleaded guilty to assaulting his spouse and to breaching his bail terms.

Sharkey sentenced the man from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to 180 days in the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility, a 48-bed, low- and medium-security jail. Sharkey gave Pangon 1 1/2 times credit for the 66 days he had spent in remand, leaving him with 80 days to serve.

Pangon spent 14 days in isolation when he was first put into custody, as required by COVID-19 prevention measures. He was given a short amount of time each day to shower and use the telephone, but was not allowed to socialize with other inmates and could not take part in rehabilitative programming.

Nunavut’s jails had also suspended all outside visits and were closed to the public as part of pandemic precautions.

Pangon’s lawyer had requested that his client receive an additional 1 1/2 days in credit for the two weeks he spent in isolation.

Sharkey denied the request.

“I do not favour deducting a specific amount of time from an otherwise fit and proper sentence simply because of restrictive conditions which may be in place on the day the offender is sentenced,” Sharkey wrote.

All restrictions brought in earlier during the pandemic at Nunavut’s correctional facilities were lifted in June.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

NAV CANDA is considering closing its station at the West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada considering closing station at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization is conducting a service review at Castlegar’s airport

Signs are posted at the entrance of newly deactivated roads. (Photo Contributed)
Road Rehabilitation & Access Management Workshop cancelled

The event was scrapped as a result of new social distancing expectations

A bear and her cub seen near Fernie in late Fall 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Bears turn in for winter (soon)

Snow, longer nights and less food means the Elk Valley’s resident bear population will make itself scarce soon

Gracie Lou Brulotte is fundraising for a new and improved set of wheels. (Photo Contributed)
Fernie rallies to fundraise for Gracie Lou’s new wheelchair

The community has come together to donate over $5,000 to the campaign since Oct. 5

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Kimberley Dynamiters' next two exhibition games have been postponed due to an individual testing positive for COVID-19. Paul Rodgers file.
Member of Kimberley Dynamiters tests positive for COVID-19

Exhibition games in Fernie, Creston postponed

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Blue Sky Kingdom.
Kimberley’s Bruce Kirkby publishes “Blue Sky Kingdom” documenting family adventure to Zanskar

Kirkby third book explores spirituality, mental health, modernity and tradition

Most Read