Victor Ugyuk, 32, was sentenced Friday to five-and-a-half years in prison for an assault outside the Yellowknife Sobering Centre that resulted in his cousin Mark Poodlat’s death last September.
Court heard Ugyuk, who was convicted of manslaughter, struck Poodlat eight times over the course of a few minutes on Sept. 3, 2019. Poodlat lost consciousness with the final blow and died from bleeding and swelling in his brain caused by a laceration in a major neck artery in hospital in Edmonton Sept. 5.
Court heard earlier in the trial that being intoxicated, which Poodlat was, makes this type of injury more dangerous due to exaggerated head and neck movement further aggravating the artery.
At the start of delivering her sentence, Justice Louise Charbonneau acknowledged that nothing she says or does “can truly reflect the magnitude of loss” for those mourning Poodlat, including his mother, who was in the courtroom.
Since Ugyuk has been in custody since September 2019, he gets credit for nearly 18 months at the standard 1.5 per day ratio. That leaves him with four years and one month to serve in prison.
The sentence also imposes a firearm prohibition for life and a order preventing contact with Poodlat’s mother while Ugyuk is in custody.
Mitigating and aggravating factors
In sentencing, Charbonneau noted the relevant Gladue factors at play and Ugyuk’s traumatic past.
Ugyuk’s mother went to residential school and struggled with addiction. Ugyuk lived with his aunt and uncle in Taloyoak, NT growing up, though he sometimes lived with his mother in short stints.
When he was 14, Ugyuk spent some time living with his mother in Cambridge Bay.
When he returned, the court heard, Ugyuk got into drinking, started skipping school and was apparently never the same. He was ultimately asked to leave his aunt and uncle’s residence because of his behaviour. He moved back in with his mom.
Charbonneau said that this seemed to be the “start of a downward spiral that never ended.”
When he was 18 Ugyuk became involved with a woman with whom he was very violent. For years he beat his spouse and their two children.
In 2012, his partner and children died in a house fire deemed by the RCMP to have been set intentionally by the mother to kill herself and the children.
The community blames Ugyuk for the incident because of the way he treated their family, the court heard.
Charbonneau referred to Ugyuk’s history, outlined in a presentencing report (PSR), as mitigating factors that reduce his “moral blameworthiness” for his crimes.
Ugyuk’s early guilty plea, too, is a mitigating factor that Charbonneau said demonstrate he takes responsibility for his actions.
“It’s an indication that Mr. Ugyuk is remorseful for what’s he’s done, and I don’t doubt that he is remorseful.”
At the start of sentencing on Monday, the court saw video footage of the assaults against Poodlat.
Charbonneau said “it was chilling to watch what unfolded knowing the terrible consequences.”
Manslaughter is to cause another person’s death by committing an unlawful act without the intention of causing death. Because of the variances in manslaughter cases, possible sentences range from no jail at all to life in prison.
While all parties acknowledged that there was no intention to kill, Ugyuk assaulted Poodlat in three separate sequences in approximately six minutes. Poodlat never engaged in the altercation, demonstrating that the fight was not consensual.
Ugyuk’s “persistance” despite Poodlat’s passivity is an aggravating factor in this case, the court heard.
At the time of the altercation Ugyuk was on probation for a previous assault conviction and had only been out of custody for three months. This, in addition to several other violent offences, show that Ugyuk “cannot control his anger,” Charbonneau said.
She said that jail is a last resort in the justice system but that “separating Mr. Ugyuk from the rest of the community is clearly necessary here, because his violence towards Mr. Poodlat is not an isolated act.”
'A danger to others'
At Monday’s proceedings, Ugyuk expressed remorse for his actions and the want to rehabilitate to live a better life.
Charbonneau said she has no doubt he was genuine in his wishes for the future but that “it’s not going to happen over night.”
“It gives me no joy to sentence people to lengthy prison terms,” Charbonneau said, but that her role in sentencing is to “promote peace and safety in our community and to protect the public.”
As it stands right now, she said, “he is a danger to others in the community.”
"The need to protect others is not diminished by his circumstances."
She said that if he continues to commit further offences it seems likely that the Crown would submit to have him designated a dangerous offender, and so for Ugyuk “the stakes are high.”
The court heard that Ugyuk has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, personality disorder, alcohol addition, and other mental health issues for which he has been prescribed medication. He admitted that he has not always been consistent with taking those prescriptions.
Charbonneau said that he needs to address the issues of his past “in a meaningful way” so that he doesn’t spend more time in and out of custody “as he has for the past 15 years or so.”
She said she hopes he will take advantage of the resources he has access to in custody.
“I hope that the end of these proceedings can be the beginning, or next step, in carrying on.”