Tyler Skookum has been sentenced to nine years for manslaughter for his role in the 2017 death of Wilfred Charlie.
With credit for time served, it means the Carmacks man will serve another five years in prison before he is released.
Justice Edith Campbell handed down the sentence Sept. 2 following a sentencing hearing that lasted most of the day and included several victim impact statements, a community impact statement and also saw Skookum address the court himself.
The nine-year sentence was proposed as a joint submission by both crown attorney Lauren Whyte and Tyler Skookum’s lawyer Jennifer Budgell.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse following the sentencing, Whyte explained the joint sentencing submission came about for a number of reasons.
“On the evidence we had, we thought that the plea and sentence was appropriate,” Whyte said. “We’re also concerned about the delay in this case. There was a jury trial ongoing, and there were delays caused by the cold weather and later COVID. So that was one consideration as well.”
Skookum had originally gone to trial on a first-degree murder charge. In the midst of that trial in April, Skookum entered a guilty plea to manslaughter in Charlie’s death.
As the court heard in the agreed statement of facts Skookum had been drinking and using drugs in the days leading up to Charlie’s death. On June 18, 2017 he and his two cousins were drinking together. When they ran out of alcohol in the early morning hours of June 19, they went to Charlie’s house looking to get more.
Charlie refused, telling the three he didn’t have any. A fight ensued with two of the cousins, including Skookum. The other had left the house.
During the fight Skookum stabbed Charlie a number of times using a knife from inside the house.
Charlie ran out of the house, collapsing outside with Skookum pushing Charlie into the Yukon River.
It was concluded in an autopsy report that Charlie likely died from the stab wounds, though there is also a possibility he drowned.
Pools of blood were found both outside and inside the home when RCMP conducted a wellness check and a search began for Charlie. His body was found three weeks later in the Fort Selkirk area.
Much of the sentencing hearing was spent with victim impact statements being read into the record along with a community impact statement. There were also a number of victim impact statements on the file that were not read into the record.
Those that were read into the record recalled Charlie as a man who provided for his many family members, shared his traditional knowledge and culture and contributed much to his community.
His sister Vera Charlie recalled in her statement each fall her freezer was full with meat her brother had hunted.
Since 2017 her freezer has been empty and she has become the person the family depends on.
Vera described feeling sad, angry and defeated since her brother’s death, noting it is her children and grandchildren that keep her going.
It’s important for the court to know that her brother’s life mattered and she wrote that she needed justice for him.
Deanna Lee Charlie, Vera’s daughter, told the court in her victim impact statement she continues to receive counselling.
She developed anxiety as well as depression and a number of physical symptoms such as tension and headaches in dealing with the stress.
The murder of her uncle saw her take a year off of her nursing program to return home to support her mother as well as be in the territory for when she believed the trial would go ahead. There were also a number of days of work she missed.
Many who penned statements spoke of feelings of anger, sadness and fear, not wanting to see Tyler or his cousin (who was also convicted of manslaughter in Charlie’s death) in the community again.
The community impact statement described a community that has lost someone who held a lot of traditional knowledge and said the community is now divided.
It will take many years for the community to heal and feel safe again, it was noted.
Before the sentence was handed down, Skookum also addressed the court apologizing to the Charlie family, the Carmacks community and anyone else he hurt.
“I’ve betrayed you all in the worst way,” he said, telling those in the courtroom as well as others viewing the proceedings in Carmack that he lives everyday with deep regret.
He can’t undo what happened, but said he is doing his best to change for the future. His time in jail has not been wasted and he is striving to be a better man.
“Alcohol and drugs took over my life,” Skookum said, adding he used alcohol and drugs to numb the pain in his life.
“To everyone that I hurt I’m so very sorry,” he said.
In handing down the sentence, Campbell cited aggravating and mitigating factors that were outlined in Crown and defence submissions.
Among the aggravating factors she highlighted the circumstances of the case including that Charlie was alone in his home, a weapon was used and that Charlie’s body was disposed of in the river; as well as the impact on the community and Skookum’s criminal record.
Pointing to the mitigating factors, Campbell noted the Gladue report that outlined the details of Skookum’s life which has included inter-generational impacts of residential schools and been punctuated by loss and trauma throughout his 30 years as well as Skookum’s guilty plea, that he’s taking responsibility for his actions and that he’s been proactive in taking programming and counselling while at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
Addressing Skookum directly after delivering the sentence, Campbell encouraged him to continue on the path he is on with counselling and getting programming.
“You are still quite young,” she said, acknowledging he’s expressed remorse and shown insight.
She also pointed to Skookum’s acknowledgement that he can’t change the past, but told him one thing he can do is keep moving forward on the path he’s on and show he truly intends to turn his life around.
Along with the nine-year sentence, Skookum is also subject to a DNA order, a 10-year weapons ban and a no-contact order.
He is also subject to a lifetime firearms ban, but the ban can be lifted for subsistence and employment reasons.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org