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Offender barred from Old Crow released in Whitehorse

A sex offender who was barred from entering Old Crow has now been court-ordered to reside in Whitehorse.
Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm (right) and Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill speak to reporters on Oct. 11. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

A sex offender who was barred from entering Old Crow has now been court-ordered to reside in Whitehorse.

Christopher Schafer, 45, has been convicted of numerous sexual and violent crimes dating back 20 years. He was first charged with sexual assault in Old Crow in 1999.

Schafer was originally court-ordered back to Old Crow following his release on Oct. 8.

The bail order was met with outcry from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, which had previously requested consultation, safety support and sufficient notice before Schafer was returned to the community. Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm issued an emergency order banning Schafer from entering Vuntut Gwitchin territory to delay his return until the town was ready, returning the matter to court on Oct. 11 and 12.

Both the crown and defense lawyers agreed that Schafer should instead reside in Whitehorse, as the emergency order made it illegal for him to enter Old Crow. Judge Michael Cozens accepted their joint plan.

Under his probation conditions, Schafer must live at his proposed address unless he receives permission to move. He’s not permitted to leave his residence while under the influence of alcohol. He can’t own firearms nor enter liquor-primary establishments and must receive counselling on anger management and substance abuse.

Following the new bail decision on Oct. 12, Chief Tizya-Tramm told reporters outside the courtroom that his government still takes responsibility for Schafer’s well-being, regardless of his residency.

“My main goal is to find support for Christopher Schafer but also for our community,” Tizya-Tramm said.

The chief said he wants mental health and emergency clinical services brought to Old Crow. He also wants to establish a First Nation-led framework for the reintegration of offenders back into their home community.

“It’s difficult work, not the entire community agrees, but we’re not here to stand in the way of anyone’s rights,” Tizya-Tramm said. “This emergency declaration came because the community had no other recourse.”

On Oct. 8, Tizya-Tramm told reporters he was shocked at the original bail order to Old Crow. He said he’d already informed the court of his community’s wishes via an impact statement last summer and wondered “what happened” to that consultation.

Judge Cozens responded to what he called “misinformation” surrounding the decision, addressing the court on Oct. 12.

Cozens explained that Tizya-Tramm’s community impact statement on Aug. 19 had been read to a court considering different charges than the matter resulting in his release.

When the Justice of the Peace ordered Schafer’s release on Oct. 7, Tizya-Tramm’s community statement was not included in the proceedings, because the charges weren’t connected. The judge was aware, however, that Schafer had been released to Old Crow in the past and that both the defense and crown counsels were consenting to his community residency.

Cozens continued that he was concerned the Justice of the Peace was being attacked for a decision that was in line with best judicial practice, thus undermining the public’s confidence in and access to the justice system.

“As chief judge, I have an obligation to speak up to this,” Cozens said.

The Justice of the Peace was bound by judicial independence when she ordered Schafer to Old Crow, he said. That means she could not be swayed by the influence of any government outside what was heard in court – including First Nations governments. Cozens called this a “foundational part of our justice system.”

Tizya-Tramm told media that Cozens’ comments were consistent with his position and understanding of the situation. The fact that the community’s impact statement wasn’t heard in the court discussing his release is a systemic issue, he said.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on the judicial system, but when we have a very clear and present position on this and have been consistent for years … a lot of it isn’t actually reflected in court documents,” Tizya-Tramm said.

“So, when we’re talking about filling in gaps … that’s part of our questioning: how is it that we do have these positions, we do this work and it can just so happen, perhaps on a technicality, that nobody sees it.”

He also noted that Schafer was released to Old Crow in 2019, as Cozens referenced, before COVID-19 gave the Vuntut Gwitchin powers to halt free travel in and out of Old Crow with the introduction of the Community Measure Act.

Establishing independent mechanisms of community-led justice, like the emergency order, is part of facilitating First Nations’ autonomy, Tizya-Tramm suggested. Part of the outcry after Schafer’s release was due to community members feeling helpless.

“This is going to take a lot of raw strength, because we don’t have our agreement on justice negotiations. We don’t have a VGFN court. These are things that were thought of in our constitution,” he said.

“That’s a big part of the missing puzzle here.”

READ MORE: Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation bans sex offender with emergency order, requests public inquiry into release

READ MORE: VGFN passing emergency legislation to better screen for travellers entering the community

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at