No charges after fatal altercation at Yellowknife day shelter last summer, police say

Yellowknife's temporary day shelter. A violent altercation that took place at the shelter in July resulted in the death of a 32-year-old man. It was the 3rd fatal incident to occur within or around a Yellowknife shelter in the last 4 years.  (April Hudson/CBC - image credit)
Yellowknife's temporary day shelter. A violent altercation that took place at the shelter in July resulted in the death of a 32-year-old man. It was the 3rd fatal incident to occur within or around a Yellowknife shelter in the last 4 years. (April Hudson/CBC - image credit)

RCMP say a man arrested in connection with a violent altercation last summer at the Yellowknife day shelter that left another man dead, won't be charged.

In a news release on Wednesday, police said the "serious altercation" took place between two men at the shelter on July 26.

An investigation, including video footage of the incident, determined the deceased man, who was 32 years old, was the aggressor — and the other man, who inflicted the fatal injuries, was acting in self-defense.

"His actions were reasonable and proportionate to the force being used against him. As such, the police investigation has been concluded with no charges being laid," the release states.

The incident was the third violent interaction to happen in the vicinity of a city shelter in the last four years.

A similar case in 2019 saw Victor Ugyuk punch his cousin Mark Poodlat in the head, walk away, and return twice to assault Poodlat further. Both had been drinking.

This occurred outside the downtown day shelter and sobering centre, a separate facility from the day shelter.

Poodlat died in hospital in Edmonton two days after the incident. He was 35.

Ugyuk was sentenced to five and half years in jail.

Another incident in 2021 saw Morin Lee Nitsiza initially charged with murder in the death of Jerry Akoak, after Akoak was found dead in January of that year, also near the day shelter and sobering centre.

Nitsiza had assaulted Akoak earlier, but a toxicology report found the death was caused by alcohol poisoning, and not physical violence, said the Crown prosecutor.

Nitsiza was sentenced to 12 months in custody followed by 12 months of probation for assault.

Safety procedures in place, says health authority

The Yellowknife day shelter, where the violent altercation happened last July, is run by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).

Alexander Keefe, a spokesperson for the NTHSSA, wrote in an email to CBC News that the shelter has numerous safety procedures in place, including staff training for crisis prevention and intervention, as well security cameras around the perimeter of the building.

He said staff also inform clients of the code of conduct and staff will contact the RCMP in the case of violence as staff "do not physically intervene."

Arlene Hache is one of the founders of the Yellowknife Women's Society and ran the shelter there for almost 30 years. She also lived in a shelter when she first came to Yellowknife.

Hache said she thinks law enforcement needs to take a more active role in dealing with violence in Yellowknife's downtown and specifically among the underhoused population. She believes police have "put everything off into kind of a narrative about addictions."

"What it did is, it erased the fact that there's two different things going on: one is addictions, which shelters are the best at dealing with, I can assure you of that. With [the other], violence... the RCMP are responsible to intervene."

But she said in her experience police would prefer to delegate the responsibility to the shelters and public health workers.

"It has in my view created an unsafe situation for residents of shelters, for staff working in shelters, and for the community at large," she said.

In an email, Cpl. Matt Halstead with the Yellowknife RCMP said officers will respond to all calls for service at the shelters or any location in the city.

He said, when appropriate, the officers do try to work with external partners to find a resolution that does not involve a person being lodged in a cell. He also said RCMP recognize that addictions are best viewed as a public health issue.

CBC News asked the health minister and Yellowknife's mayor for interview about the most recent violent incident at the day shelter, but did not receive a response before publication.