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

A case of COVID has been detected within School District 33. (School District 33 photo)
UPDATE: Case of COVID confirmed at a Chilliwack school

Fraser Health has not informed parents but district sent letter to parents Friday

Record-low returns of salmon have been recorded on the Fraser River in recent years. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Time for Indigenous-led salmon strategy on the Lower Fraser, says Alliance

‘Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing’ have huge impact: LFFA

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region over the last week.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
CHARTS: Weekly COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Fraser Valley

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region.

The City of Chilliwack says there’s too much spitting going on at the Sardis Sports Complex. (City of Chilliwack photo)
Too much spitting a problem at Chilliwack’s Sardis Sports Complex

The City of Chilliwack is asking the minor hockey community to ease up on expectorating

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’ making second Abbotsford court appearance on Monday

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

A Mercedes SUV is covered at a gas station in the Clayton area following a deadly shooting there on Sept. 28, 2019. (File photo)
This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

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

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

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

Most Read