Burwash brothers sentenced for unlawful confinement

Two Burwash Landing brothers have been sentenced for their role in unlawfully confining Collin Johnson in the summer of 2013, an incident that continues to divide the isolated community.

Two Burwash Landing brothers have been sentenced for their role in unlawfully confining Collin Johnson in the summer of 2013, an incident that continues to divide the isolated community.

Wilfred Sheldon, a former Kluane First Nation chief, was sentenced to 18 months probation while Derek Johnson received a six-month conditional sentence as well as 12 months’ probation.

Sheldon, 39, must remain in the Yukon and complete 50 hours of community service while Johnson, 33, must complete 20 hours of community service.

The men must also take part in the restorative justice process outlined in Southern Tutchone traditional law, which will unfold over the coming months.

It may never be fully clear what happened on the night of Aug. 8, 2013.

A one-day trial last year featured two witnesses, one of whom was Austin Dickson, who testified both Sheldon and Johnson held Collin against his will following a party they attended.

The next day, Collin appeared to have bruises, Dickson told the court.

Five months later, Collin committed suicide, and his family blames the two accused for his death.

The teen’s death has weighed heavily on the community.

One man, Weldon Danroth, is already serving an 18-month sentence for beating up Derek Johnson in an act of vigilante justice.

Last July, defence lawyer David Tarnow successfully argued there would be a real risk of violence if the trial was allowed to take place in the community.

Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale agreed and the trial was moved to Whitehorse. Justice Colleen Kenny found the brothers guilty of unlawful confinement in October.

At Friday’s sentencing, several of Collin’s relatives submitted written victim impact statements. Letters of support for the brothers were also taken into consideration.

Kluane First Nation council sent along a resolution it had passed on Jan. 15, in which it stated it would not be wise to allow the two individuals back into the community.

Ruth Carroll, Collin’s grandmother, and Alyce Johnson, an aunt to both families, made oral statements in court.

Carroll talked about her grandson’s character and his dream of seeing Burwash Landing become a “good place.”

“He was a good kid who had a short life but he did wonderful things,” she said.

“He was quiet but fun to be around. It’s good to know he loved Burwash Landing.”

Carroll also spoke about following in Collin’s footsteps and focusing on community healing.

“If we want a place where people can live in harmony and love, we have to put our differences aside,” she said.

“I’m not perfect and I don’t try to be. We have to put our differences aside.”

Johnson talked about how Collin had planned to go back to school.

She also emphasized the importance of being held accountable under both criminal and Southern Tutchone traditional law.

“Justice will be brought forward today for what has transpired,” she said.

After spending almost two hours reading statements and letters, as well as hearing closing arguments from Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari and defence lawyer David Tarnow, Justice Colleen Kenny read her sentence.

She said parts from many of the statements were inadmissible because they “went far beyond the criminal code” and did not focus on the incident itself.

Although there is a sense that Collin’s suicide was a direct result of his confinement, one must only look at the facts of the incident, Kenny told a packed courthouse.

“Many of you will be disappointed with this sentence,” she said.

“Unfortunately our justice system cannot solve the problems in your community. You have the power and the responsibility to make the community whole again, for the sake of you and your children.”

When given a chance to speak, neither Sheldon nor Johnson took the opportunity.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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