The second of two men involved in the 2017 killing of Wilfred “Dickie” Charlie in his Carmacks home was handed down a three-and-a-half-year sentence followed by two years of probation in a Whitehorse courtroom Sept. 8.
However, with credit for the time he’s already spent in jail, as well as a further reduction due to the Crown’s failure to disclose evidence to the defence, Mario Rueben Skookum will only remain behind bars for five more months.
Yukon Supreme Court Justice Edith Campbell gave her sentencing reasons about a month and a half after hearing arguments from the Crown and defence, who had asked, respectively, for five years or time served with the record showing a one-year sentence.
Campbell, a week prior, had sentenced Mario’s cousin and former co-accused, Tyler Aaron Skookum, to nine years in jail for his role in Charlie’s death. (With credit for time served, Tyler will spend five more years in jail.)
Both had been charged with first-degree murder before pleading guilty to manslaughter.
The agreed statement of facts filed in both cases said that Tyler and Mario, along with another cousin, had been drinking and in the early morning of June 19, 2017, went to Charlie’s house in search of more alcohol. Charlie, 57, refused to give them any, and Tyler and Mario, after their cousin left, decided to take any he had by force.
Mario, now 28, kneeled on Charlie’s back to hold him down as Tyler searched the house. Tyler then emerged from the kitchen with a knife and began stabbing Charlie; Mario immediately got off of him, assuming at first that Tyler was just punching him.
Charlie ran out of his house but collapsed. Tyler and Mario, the latter after his cousin threatened him, moved Charlie to the nearby Yukon River. Mario stopped helping and Tyler pushed Charlie into the river, not knowing if he was still alive; an autopsy showed that Charlie likely died from the stab wounds but wasn’t conclusive.
Mario had never intended to cause Charlie harm, according to the agreed statement of facts.
Summarizing victim and community impact statements read to the court in July, Campbell said Charlie’s death had created a deep divide in Carmacks, where community members still felt fear, distrust, anger and hurt three years later.
Charlie’s family had lost a man who knew traditional ways, like how to run a dog team, and someone with a good sense of humour who would hunt, fish and gather medicine to help feed and nourish his loved ones.
The court, she acknowledged, couldn’t bring him back, and Mario’s sentence shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the worth of Charlie’s life.
Campbell outlined the aggravating and mitigating factors in considering his sentence.
A citizen of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Mario is an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, she noted, and had suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse beginning at an early age. He also witnessed alcohol abuse as a child and began drinking at 15 after a friend’s death.
That Mario pleaded guilty to manslaughter, has accepted responsibility and shown remorse for his actions and taken part in multiple programs while in jail were also mitigating.
However, Campbell found Mario’s criminal record, the fact that Charlie was in his own home where he should have been safe, that Mario didn’t help Charlie and assisted in moving him towards the river were aggravating factors. The long-lasting and deep impact on the community was also aggravating.
In addition to the manslaughter sentence, she also gave him 30 days, to be served concurrently, for a bail breach he earned in 2019.
Accounting for time spent in custody, Mario would have 10 months left to serve, but that amount was reduced due to the Crown failing to share two police statements with the defence that could have affected a potential trial witness’s credibility.
By the time the statements were disclosed, following an application by Tyler’s lawyer, Mario had already entered his guilty plea, placing him in a “difficult” position, Campbell said.
The Crown conceded the failure was a breach of Mario’s right to mount a full defence. However, Crown attorney Tom Lemon had argued it was “minor” and worthy of only a month or two of credit, while Skookum’s lawyer, Bibhas Vaze, described it as far more serious.
Campbell gave Mario five months, disagreeing that the breach was “minor” but noting there was no evidence the statements were withheld maliciously.
Still, she said, the case should serve as a reminder to the Crown about the importance of thoroughly reviewing evidence and sharing it with the defence, a duty well-enshrined in law and crucial to maintaining a trustworthy justice system.
Mario will be on probation for two years after being released from jail and subject to a number of conditions, including a curfew, a prohibition on possessing or consuming alcohol and drugs, not having contact with more than a half-dozen people and notifying the RCMP before visiting Carmacks and upon leaving.
Campbell addressed Mario before the court closed.
“You’re still young, you’re under 30,” she said. “It seems to me you genuinely want to deal with the issues that brought you before the court.”
She acknowledged the steps he’d already taken and encouraged him to continue bettering himself.
“You owe that to yourself and you owe that to your community as well,” she said, adding that addressing his substance use problems and trauma was the only way to start making amends.
In an email, Crown attorney Lauren Whyte wrote that it had been “a complicated case with a number of legal issues that the Court had to consider.”
“We hope that those impacted by this offence can begin to move forward now that Mario and Tyler Skookum have been sentenced,” she wrote.
Vaze, meanwhile, said in an interview that “there’s an element of the sentence that provides hope to Mario Skookum.”
While he declined to speak about the specifics of his client’s sentence, he said that generally, it’s extremely important for the criminal justice system to provide that hope, and to let Indigenous people know “that their voices are actually being heard, about the importance of their ability to do good things in the community, to move forward, to be able to make a life for themselves.”
“Any time the court gives a young Indigenous person some hope, that is an important message.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org