A Tuktoyaktuk man avoided trial by pleading guilty to mischief after a fire he started on his own property burned out of control, forcing an evacuation of six other people.
In Inuvik Supreme Court Oct. 27, James Joseph Tedjuk, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of mischief. Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar sentenced him to a six month conditional sentence, which he will serve at his home and will follow with an additional six months of probation. Tedjuk will also be required to complete 50 hours of community service.
“I understand how sorry you are about what happened,” said Mahar. “It’s unusual at this level of court that you end up dealing with someone with no criminal record.
“From what I have heard here today, what you did was extremely out of character.”
Crown prosecutor Billi Wun told court on July 20, 2019, at approximately 1 a.m. Tedjuk poured some gasoline on the seat of his ATV and then lit it on fire with a match.
Wun continued that Tedjuk was upset with his father, who was at a wooden house 10 feet away from the ATV.
However, the black smoke from the fire began to engulf the home and the plume was spotted by RCMP doing patrols. Police traced the plume to the fire and called the fire department.
Wun said the police had to evacuate five people from the ground floor of the home, all of which were so intoxicated they were unaware of the smoke, one of which needed to be physically dragged out of the building by police. The five individuals forgot to tell police there was also a young boy staying on the top floor of the building.
A neighbour informed police the boy was in the building and police were able to rescue him without injury.
“The risk for tragedy here is enormous,” said Wun. “People in the structure were unaware of what happened because they were so intoxicated. It was one of those blends of low criminal intent and his risk.
“It was a stroke of luck.”
Wun added that Tedjuk expressed remorse for the incident and gave a full confession the next day. He noted that the incident was a first-time offence for Tedjuk.
“I would characterize this as out of character for him,” said Wun. “Police advise he’s not usually on their radar.”
Tedjuk’s lawyer, Charles Davison, said Tedjuk had approached police on the scene and told them he had lit the fire. He added Tedjuk had given police full cooperation from the very beginning and is known around Tuktoyaktuk for helping elders out with fire wood and shoveling snow.
Davison told court the ATV was a gift from his father, whom Tedjuk had come down from Tuktoyaktuk to surprise. However, the two had an argument and Tedjuk decided to burn the ATV to get back at him.
“This is somebody who has never been in trouble before and acted out of character,” said Davison. “I have every reason to believe he’s not on the police radar at all.”