Abraham Bonnetplume could spend more than a year in jail for taking an Inuvik fire truck on a drunken 100-kilometre highway joyride in January.
Convicted of joyriding and refusing to provide a breath sample, he appeared in a Yellowknife courtroom May 7 so the lawyers arguing his case could suggest to a judge what his punishment should be.
Court heard Inuvik RCMP received a call from the fire department that their fire truck had been taken on Jan. 19.
After patrolling the town, officers heard radio chatter that the truck had been spotted on the Dempster Highway headed towards Fort McPherson.
Bonnetplume was stopped about 100 km out of Inuvik, just north of Tsiigehtchic.
RCMP noted Bonnetplume showed signs of impairment. He refused the officers’ demand for a breath sample.
Joyriding according to the Criminal Code involves taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent – temporarily. If a person takes something they don’t own and they intend to keep it, that’s theft.
Crown prosecutor Levi Karpa proposed a sentence of 16 months in custody and an eight-year driving prohibition.
In driving a vehicle Bonnetplume was unqualified to operate, he presented a danger to himself, others on the road and the community, Karpa said.
Even if he wasn’t charged with stealing the vehicle, Karpa said taking the truck from the Inuvik fire department greatly reduced official’s ability to respond to an emergency.
Bonnetplume took the largest of the Inuvik fire department’s three trucks, the ladder. The department’s website says the other two are smaller “pumper” fire engines.
Inuvik fire chief Cynthia Hammond filed a victim impact statement but it was not read aloud in court.
Bonnetplume has 16 prior property offences and four impaired driving offences on his criminal record.
Karpa said six months ago, in November 2020, Bonnetplume was arrested after he was found asleep in his truck hunched over the wheel with an open beer can in both hands, also in Inuvik. He received a 90-day license suspension at the time and was notified that he could face other charges. That case has not made its way through the courts.
His other previous impaired driving charges were accompanied by charges of joyriding in 2012, possession of property obtained by crime in 2001 and failure to stop at the scene of a collision in 1999.
Karpa said Bonnetplume is a repeat offender and that public safety should play a serious role in his sentence.
Defence lawyer Tu Pham suggested that a sentence in the range of 12 months, followed by a lengthy probationary period and driving prohibition would be more fit. He said the judge should consider “significant” Gladue factors when sentencing Bonnetplume.
As a result of their experiences in residential school, both of Bonnetplume’s parents were serious alcoholics at one point in life. A pre-sentence report (PSR) demonstrates that Bonnetplume endured a “childhood of neglect,” Pham said. He also pointed to a number of deaths of loved ones Bonnetplume was struggling with around the time of the offence.
“It’s unfortunate he didn’t find a less harmful way to address his grief,” Pham said “He hit rock bottom but has since climbed his way back up.”
Pham told the court that Bonnetplume is ashamed of what happened, doesn’t know why he did it and appreciates how dangerous his actions were.
“He’s not at a point where the court should warehouse him to separate him from the public,” Pham said.
The lawyer said his client had demonstrated good behaviour in custody and his told the court he has been proactive in seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.
“He’s capable of rehabilitation and staying out of trouble,” Pham said.
Territorial court judge Donovan Molloy acknowledged the Gladue factors present in the PSR.
“I will be placing considerable weight on that and on reducing his moral blameworthiness.”
Molloy is expected to deliver his decision May 28.