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 health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Gabrielle Clarke is an art therapist in Golden who works in mixed media art. Clarke’s art will be on display downtown at the Go-Lab. (Gabrielle Clarke photo)
Mixed media arts show comes to Go-Lab

Clarke’s art will be on display until Nov. 6

The view from Donald Bridge, looking east on Highway 1, about 28 km north of Golden at 11:50 a.m. Oct. 18. (DriveBC)
UPDATE: Expect delays on highway east of Revelstoke

A vehicle incident occurred near the Quartz Creek bridge

Advance voting is already underway in the 42nd general election in British Columbia. Election day is Oct. 24.(Black Press files photo)
QUIZ: Are you ready for the B.C. election?

Take this short test and see how much you know about elections and voting

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

Vernon Fire Rescue Services and Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP were called to a report of an electrical fire at the emergency response centre operated by Turning Points Collaborative Society on 37th Street Sunday, Oct. 18, just before 5:30 p.m. The fire displaced shelter residents who have been set up with services at the Vernon Recreation Complex. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Vernon shelter residents find refuge in hotels, motels, recreation complex after fire

Electrical fire at Turning Points Collaborative Society’s emergency response centre on 37th Street

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna man charged after allegedly stealing senior’s car

Elderly woman’s car was stolen while she was shopping

Salmon Arm RCMP say residents have been receiving calls from fraudster claiming to be with Publishers Clearing House. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP warn of Publishers Clearing House telephone scam

Police say scammer requests fee to claim sweepstakes prizes

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Osoyoos Fire Department responded to reports of a vehicle engulfed in flames Sunday (Oct. 18) evening at a Lambert Court residence. (Osoyoos Fire Department)
Osoyoos Fire Department knock down car fire near home

Blaze was ‘really close’ to becoming a structure fire

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels more Okanagan concerts

The Contenders and Colin James postponed until 2021

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Most Read