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Controversial homecoming

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 23, 2009

TSIIGEHTCHIC - A Tsiigehtchic man accused of killing his cousin was granted permission to attend his mother's funeral in the community where the alleged murder took place.

Michael Andre. who is out on bail, was permitted by the NWT Supreme Court to drive to Tsiigehtchic - a community of around 175 residents - from Inuvik to attend his mother's funeral Tuesday, after she died March 12.

Andre was charged with second-degree murder after his cousin, Patrick Blake, 25, was found lying on a Tsiigehtchic road by a local bylaw officer in the early morning hours of June 29, 2008.

News of Andre's temporary release from supervision in Inuvik shocked the victim's mother.

Ruby Blake thinks the feelings of the accused are being put before those of the victims.

"Like I told the RCMP yesterday, my son wasn't available for his son's second birthday a month ago. Why should Michael Andre walk free?" she said Thursday.

"It's just not fair."

Andre had been taking care of his terminally ill mother in Inuvik, under supervision by his aunt, for nearly a month.

Blake, living in Fort McPherson, said she had not been notified by the courts that Andre was living in Inuvik, 121 km from her home.

"I was just there last week," she said. "I could have ran into him."

Blake said she should have been contacted before Andre was permitted to be released to Inuvik.

"They should be finding out how the victims feel toward that. They have to take the victims into consideration before taking the accused's family into consideration," she said.

"It's as if they just opened up the wound again. Like it just happened that day."

Supreme Court Justice Don Cooper agreed to let Andre attend the funeral on strict conditions.

Andre drove from Inuvik to Tsiigehtchic to attend the funeral Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m. with his aunt and had to leave immediately after. He was not allowed to attend a feast scheduled following the funeral. He then had to return to Inuvik, He had until March 24 to get to Yellowknife, where he will live with his aunt as he awaits trial.

On the drive to Yellowknife, he is required to report to local RCMP at every stop - expected to be Whitehorse and Fort Simpson. If detachments are closed, he will need to phone in to report to Yellowknife.

Crown prosecutor Glen Boyd said the Crown had concerns about Andre coming into contact with witnesses at the funeral, but said the conditions of his recognisance - including a 'do not contact list' - were to remain in place for the duration of his temporary leave.

"There is a list of people that he is not to have contact with and those conditions remain in place for the purposes of attending the funeral," he said.

The Crown did not oppose Andre's release.

Blake found it hard to believe Andre would not be in contact with witnesses.

"How many witnesses did he have a chance to talk to in Tsiigehtchic?" she asked, adding she had concerns about how the court orders could be enforced if there was no RCMP there to enforce them.Defence counsel Kelly Payne did not know whether an RCMP officer was in the community of Tsiigehtchic at the time of the funeral.

She said it was unlikely the court would charge Andre for breaching orders "if one of those people came up to him and shook his hand and said, 'I'm sorry for your loss.'

"He's there grieving his mother's death," she said.

"That is not the kind of contact that is prohibited on the terms of the order."

Payne said applications like this do not come up very often and humanitarian aspects needed to be weighed with concerns about the victims.

"It was a delicate balancing act that balanced the interest of the Crown's witnesses and members of the public," she said, adding in Canada, a person is believed to be innocent until proven guilty.

When asked if it was rare for a man charged with second-degree murder to be released before trial, Boyd said every case was different.

"In this case, given the plan put forward by defence council, it was determined he could stay at large," he said.

Payne said conditions were put in place to avoid even accidental contact between Andre and witnesses and the victim's family.

"If, for example, (Andre) was in the bank and someone was on that list came in, he would have to leave," she said.

Boyd said Andre was assessed for a flight risk, but it was determined it was not a concern.

Payne said his aunt - who signed for his release - would lose money if he fled.

Blake said she thought the changes to Andre's conditions were ridiculous and are not sending a strong enough message.

"Why give people conditions in court if they are going to get changed?"