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Man given 10-year sentence for 2019 Whitehorse bar shooting

Police tape at the scene of a shooting in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 1, 2019. Malakal Tuel was found guilty of nine offences in February, including aggravated assault. He was sentenced on Wednesday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)
Police tape at the scene of a shooting in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 1, 2019. Malakal Tuel was found guilty of nine offences in February, including aggravated assault. He was sentenced on Wednesday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)

A 39-year-old man who testified to being a child soldier in Sudan has been given a 10-year sentence for his role in a shooting in Whitehorse in 2019 — but he's only expected to serve another four years behind bars.

Malakal Tuel was found guilty of nine offences in February — including aggravated assault and discharging a prohibited firearm with intent to wound — after shooting another man in the head outside the 202 bar in early December 2019.

Tuel had already been banned from possessing firearms for his entire life back in 2006, and he was also found guilty of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

John Thomas (JT) Papequash survived the shooting, but the court heard that it left him with severe head trauma. He also lost his right eye and his ability to work.

During earlier sentencing arguments, defence lawyer Dale Fedorchuk called Tuel totestify about his life. The testimony revealed Tuel had been a child soldier in Sudan during the country's civil war. He described a childhood of horror and violence, followed by racism and a lack of mental health support after moving to Canada.

Both the Crown and the defence then argued whether Tuel's traumatic past should affect his sentence.

The decision 

Yukon Supreme Court Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan handed down her sentencing decision at the Yukon courthouse on Wednesday, crediting Tuel for the time he's already spent at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC). He's been in custody since the shooting, and will serve four more years at one of the eight institutions in the Pacific region.

Duncan gave several reasons for her decision.

"The normalization of violence and killings encouraged as a child soldier ... and his inability to obtain counselling for his trauma as well as to a lesser extent the racism he has experienced is all relevant context for me," Duncan said, adding Tuel continues to be affected by anti-Black racism, including during his time at the WCC.

But that doesn't excuse the crime he committed, said Duncan.

In an email to CBC News, Crown attorney Leo Lane said the sentence sends a strong message.

"Yukoners have the right to feel safe in their communities, and the court has no tolerance for gun violence and the trafficking of deadly substances."

Papequash and several people supporting him were in the room when Tuel was given the opportunity to address the court. He said nothing will change what happened, and he asked for forgiveness.

Papequash declined to comment after the sentencing. His mother, Viola Papequash, told CBC News she hopes Tuel will benefit from his time behind bars.

"He grew up in a pretty violent country with a lot of conflict. And I actually took that in consideration. I guess I can say I really forgave him. I hope that he does take the time to deal with what happened to him and his country."