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Yukon Supreme Court hears convicted shooter had been a child soldier in Sudan

Malakal Tuel, 38, was convicted of shooting J.T. Papequash outside a downtown Whitehorse bar in 2019
The Yukon Supreme Court heard testimony ahead of the sentencing of Malakal Tuel who shot another man in the head outside a downtown Whitehorse bar in 2019. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

The Yukon Supreme Court heard evidence ahead of sentencing for Malakal Tuel who was convicted of shooting J.T. Papequash in the head outside a downtown Whitehorse bar in December 2019. Among the testimony heard on Aug. 25 was information on the convicted shooter’s time as a child soldier in Sudan decades ago.

Papequash survived the shooting but the injuries he suffered are life-changing.

Following trial in 2022, Tuel was convicted of aggravated assault, firearms and drug trafficking offences for the shooting and items found in his possession after he was arrested near Carcross.

Another man, Joseph Wuor was arrested alongside Tuel hours after the shooting. He was convicted for drug and firearm offences at the same trial as Tuel and sentenced to 15 months behind bars this spring.

Along with testimony on Tuel’s personal history, the court also heard more about the impact of the shooting on Papequash and his family.

Speaking from the witness stand at the sentencing hearing because a pre-sentence report was not prepared, Tuel described his life circumstances, most notably his time as a child soldier in what is now South Sudan. The 38-year-old man, who has been behind bars at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre since December 2019, told the court he came to Canada in 2000 at age 15 on a refugee visa after deserting the army in Sudan.

He testified that he was one of many boys taken from their homes for military service during the war in South Sudan prior to its secession from the rest of Sudan. He said he was taken to a military training camp before his tenth birthday. He described his time at the camp beginning with duties like collecting water and physical training. As he and the other child soldiers aged, they trained with weapons: first pistols then eventually assault rifles, knives and rocks.

Tuel told the court that he and the other soldiers were trained on the smaller guns first because the recoil of the larger ones were too powerful. He also described being told that he and his fellow soldiers were to drive away the enemies of the group he trained with, by killing them if necessary.

Tuel told the court that by age 11 he was in combat where he saw people die, sometimes in gruesome ways.

On cross-examination, Crown Counsel Leo Lane asked Tuel about his knowledge of the harm guns cause from his time as a child soldier. He acknowledged he knew what guns could do but said it wasn’t the first thing on his mind on the night of the shooting and maintained he was at the bar to have fun.

Tuel testified that he deserted the army at age 13 or 14, escaping into Ethiopia where he says he was jailed for months before being freed with the help of Amnesty International and taken to a refugee camp. Tuel told the court that his sister and her husband were already in the camp and already started an asylum claim that he was added to. They were eventually granted entrance to Canada.

He described past heavy drinking he had sought treatment to curb and a cocaine addiction he said he kept hidden from others.

Much of the remainder of Tuel’s testimony dealt with racial prejudice he encountered in Canada, including in Whitehorse, where he told the court he lived and worked as a carpenter between 2017 and his arrest.

He told the court he believes he was passed up for carpentry jobs in the past and denied a business loan because of his race. He also said that police officers followed him to work as he drove there in the Mercedes Benz he owned when he first came to the Yukon.

Tuel testified to difficulty accessing mental health treatment and said that his story about being a child soldier wasn’t believed by a counsellor in another city. He said the most counselling he has received is since he was in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

The convicted shooter briefly acknowledged the harm he caused by shooting Papequash, especially to the seriously-injured man’s mother.

“Such a pain I cannot explain,” he said.

Four victim impact statements were filed for the court’s consideration, including statements from Papequash, his mother and his sister.

The only one to be read out in the court was from Papequash’s sister who recounted waking up on her birthday to a phone call telling her that her brother had been shot and was unlikely to survive. She returned to Whitehorse as quickly as she could.

She said it was a “miracle” that Papequash, who she described as a caring and gentle person, survived and began to regain some strength.

The court is scheduled to reconvene and hear sentencing arguments on Oct. 30. Lane told the judge that the Crown would be seeking a 10 1/2 year total sentence while the defence, led by Dale Fedorchuk, is seeking time served. Fedorchuk noted that Tuel’s pre-sentence custody will result in a credit against his sentence of at least five years and seven months.

The court heard that post-release probation terms will be considered later but Tuel does not intend to remain in the Yukon.

Yukon Supreme Court Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan indicated she would likely reserve her decision after hearing the arguments.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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