Jason Kunnuk of Igloolik, Nunavut, has issues – lots of them – according to a recent appeal decision.
First, he has a serious drinking problem.
Second, he was convicted twice for drug-related offences, including a 2009 conviction of possession for the purposes of trafficking, which carries a mandatory Firearm Prohibition Order of at least 10 years.
Third, he was convicted for careless use of a firearm (the circumstances of which are not described in the appeal and the court decision cannot be found online) and possession of a firearm while prohibited in 2011.
During this fight, his wife grabbed a knife and attacked him with it, and the two received numerous non-life-threatening injuries.
When his wife packed up the kids and left for the safety of her grandmother’s home, Kunnuk threatened to kill himself. Once she reached her grandmother’s house, Kunnuk’s wife called the RCMP and reported Kunnuk’s suicide threat.
When RCMP members arrived, they literally had to step over a loaded .22 rifle laying on the front porch to enter the house.
Once inside, the RCMP members discovered Jason Kunnuk passed out on the couch.
According to the original sentencing decision as described in the appeal, Kunnuk’s rifle “was normally stored in the crawl space of the house, hidden under some clothes. There was no suggestion that it normally had a trigger lock or other safety device. Certainly no such device was found by the police. The ammunition was normally stored in a kitchen cupboard.”
“This suggests not just a momentary lapse of judgment in the handling of the firearm but a lax attitude in general,” Justice Susan Cooper wrote.
It also doesn’t come close to meeting Canada’s Safe Storage of Non-Restricted Firearms Regulations.
(c) it is not readily accessible to ammunition, unless the ammunition is stored, together with or separately from the firearm, in a container or receptacle that is kept securely locked and that is constructed so that it cannot readily be broken open or into.
Leaving a loaded rifle laying on your front porch while you’re passed out on the couch is pretty much the textbook definition of ‘careless storage’.
For leaving a loaded rifle on his front porch and passing out on the couch, Justice of the Peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers found Jason Kunnuk guilty of careless storage of a firearm pursuant to s. 86(1) of the Criminal Code but granted Kunnuk an absolute discharge.
This means there would be no criminal record, nor any punishment for the conviction.
An absolute discharge for this type of criminal offence abuses common sense in the extreme, so the Crown appealed the sentence.
On May 22, 2020, Justice Susan Cooper released her ruling on the Crown’s appeal in R. v. Kunnuk, 2020 NUCJ 19.
“Firearm owners must know that instances of improper handling and storage of a firearm will be treated seriously by the court,” Justice Susan Cooper wrote.
“They must know that the misuse of firearms carries with it not only the risk of a criminal record, but also the potential of forfeiture of the firearm itself and, perhaps most importantly, loss of the privilege to own and possess a firearm,” she continued.
“It is this knowledge of the potential for serious consequences, including the loss of the ability to hunt and provide for family, that will hopefully deter firearm owners from handling and storing firearms without the utmost care and diligence.”
At Kunnuk’s original sentencing hearing, the defence argued a conviction “would dissuade people from calling the RCMP for help when they are feeling suicidal for fear of a criminal record.”
Justice Cooper disagreed.
“People who find themselves caught up in situations such as the one in this case are rarely thinking rationally,” Justice Cooper wrote. “Further, in many such cases, as in this case, it is not the offender who contacts the police but rather a family member or an independent observer. I conclude that it would be contrary to the public interest to grant a discharge in the circumstances of this case and this offender.”
She said the appropriate punishment would be a suspended sentence with probation, but since so much time had passed since the original trial, combined with the fact Kunnuk “had overcome some difficult circumstances and was doing well” she ruled the interests of justice would not be served by imposing a sentence now.
However, she said the same did not apply to a firearm prohibition order.
“The sentencing court determined that the offender ‘…probably knows how to handle a gun properly.’ If that is the case, such proficiency is aggravating, as it portrays the offender as a person with insight about the danger firearms present and the knowledge, but not the willingness, to mitigate that danger.”
Justice Cooper set aside the absolute discharge and entered a conviction in its place. While she ruled a suspended sentence with nine months’ probation was an appropriate sentence, she stayed the probation order because of the length of time elapsed since the original trial decision.
“There will be a s. 113 exemption,” Justice Cooper wrote, to allow Jason Kunnuk to hunt and provide for his family.
The end result of the Crown’s appeal, for all practical purposes, means nothing changed for Jason Kunnuk beyond an additional line item on his criminal record.
While this may make sense from a technical standpoint, the appeal in this case amounts to a lot of wasted court time for no gain in public safety.
Perhaps the only upside is, as Justice Cooper wrote, Jason Kunnuk “had overcome some difficult circumstances and was doing well” now.
Maybe that’s the only point that matters.