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

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as fake Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

A surveillance camera in a photo posted to the Project Iris page on surrey.rcmp-grc.gc.ca.
Quality surveillance video helps catch crooks, Surrey Mounties say

Charges laid in connection to break-and-enter in Guildford area

(Photo: Twitter@SurreyRCMP)
Surrey Mounties, pet owners, bracing for Halloween

Last year the Surrey RCMP received 147 fireworks complaints on Diwali and 121 on Halloween

Signage outside of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in South Surrey advises of the drive-thru schedule. (Contributed photo)
Cold-weather clothing donations sought at South Surrey drive-thru effort

Weekly collection continues in Mount Olive Lutheran Church parking lot

This year’s annual Lighted Boat Parade has been cancelled. (File photo)
White Rock’s annual Lighted Boat Parade cancelled

COVID-19 cited as main reason for cancellation of popular winter tradition

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

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

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Court approves money for B.C. foster children alleging harm from Kelowna social worker

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000

Most Read