Gunville sentencing decision to come down Feb. 20

A decision on the sentence for Johnathan Gunville in connection to last fall’s Amber Alert incident in North Battleford will happen Feb. 20 in provincial court.

That was the indication from Judge Bruce Bauer following sentencing submissions Wednesday morning. Bauer said he required time to consider the submissions of counsel before imposing sentence.

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The Crown and defence submitted an agreed statement of facts, but the submissions differed when it came to the length of sentence.

Crown prosecutor Lee Hnatiuk called for a global three-year federal sentence for Gunville on all the charges, less remand time. In calling for this sentence Hnatiuk cited the need for denunciation and deterrence.

“The Crown’s argument was largely based on denunciation and deterrence and the separation of Mr. Gunville from society to ensure the protection of the public was paramount,” Hnatiuk told reporters.

Defence lawyer Bill Archer took a different view, calling for a sentence in the provincial system with a range of 18 months to two years less a day.

While acknowledging the need for denunciation and deterrence, Archer’s submissions also focused on the need for rehabilitation. He urged the court to include a recommendation that Gunville serve in Saskatchewan Hospital; the new hospital includes an integrated correctional facility. 

“Our best hope, as far as I’m concerned, is at the Sask Hospital,” said Archer to reporters afterwards. He also voiced his own fear about what might happen to Gunville in the federal system.

“They’ll eat him alive. That’s my biggest fear. Will it happen? I hope not.”  

Last fall, Gunville had pled guilty to 11 counts in connection to the events of Sept. 16 to 20, the most serious of which was unlawful abandonment of a child under the age of 10. The charges also include theft of a motor vehicle, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and flight from police charges, among others.

In court Wednesday, Gunville also entered guilty pleas to two additional counts of assault, stemming from incidents on Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 last year while on remand at Saskatoon Correctional Centre.

The agreed facts outlined in court were as follows: at approximately 4:55 p.m. on Sept. 16, a running vehicle containing the child was stolen from outside M&M’s Meat Shop in North Battleford while her mother had gone into the store. The mother then called 911 immediately. The child, whose name remains subject to a court-imposed publication ban, was non-verbal, autistic, epileptic and had taken medication earlier in the morning at 8 am. 

An Amber Alert was issued. At 6:37 a.m. the following day, the stolen vehicle was located in the industrial area by men who noticed the vehicle covered by trees. They approached the vehicle fearing the worst, but found the child inside alive and she was taken to hospital and medically cleared.

Hundreds of hours of video footage was reviewed, in which both Gunville and the stolen vehicle were positively identified. The accused was seen on video footage in the industrial area and walking to Gold Eagle Casino.

It was also noted that Gunville himself called in a tip to police at 3:59 am on Sept. 17 saying he had seen the stolen car around 5pm in North Battleford going past the SARCAN, but said he did not see who was driving. His defence lawyer later acknowledged his actions were not nearly enough.  

Gunville was subsequently involved in another incident involving another stolen vehicle on Sept. 20, for which he plead guilty to dangerous driving, flight from police and other counts.

The various issues facing Gunville were described at length during the court proceeding Wednesday.

According to the sentencing report submitted, Gunville was at the “extremely low range” for behavioral functioning and for verbal reasoning, and had significant cognitive issues. Archer described Gunville as a “cognitively impaired young man” and who had suffered sexual and physical abuse. It was noted Gunville fell on his head as an infant.

It was noted multiple attempts by numerous community agencies to help Gunville had failed, and that Gunville had difficulties maintaining a residence, having been removed from the Lighthouse, group homes and other venues. The sentencing report rated him a “high risk to re-offend.”

In his submissions Crown prosecutor Hnatiuk made the point that Gunville “made choices” the entire time. He took a dim view of Gunville’s chances at rehabilitation in his submission to the court.

“Mr. Gunville has demonstrated through his past behavior that rehabilitation is not something that is going to be successful in this case,” he said to reporters afterwards.

For his part, defence lawyer Archer made clear in his submission that he was not willing to give up on rehabiliation.

“Everyone’s rooting for him to get better,” Archer said in his submission about the efforts to help him. “We can’t just abandon that hope.”

At the outset of his submissions in court, Archer said Gunville accepts “full responsibility” for his actions.

He also spoke of the “pretty outrageous comments” on social media directed at all those involved in the case, and made clear the ultimate responsibility was with his client.

“This is on Johnathan,” said Archer.

A victim impact statement was read in court by the mother of the child in the vehicle, who recounted the terror of the night of the Amber Alert.

“I relive those 14 hours every single day,” she told the court.

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Archer acknowledged the level of emotion was among the highest he had seen in his career.

“It’s obviously a very emotional case today,” said Archer. “I was getting a little misty, choked up myself.”

Archer said his heart went out to the parents, but also added his heart went out to Johnathan.

“That kid’s had a very rough life,” he said, noting Gunville’s “ability to make decisions… are limited to the extreme.”   

Gunville remains remanded until his next court date on Feb. 20 in provincial court.

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