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Convicted in shooting case, man to seek leave for sister's burial

Michael Bjornaa's younger sister was the third family member to die while the 33-year-old has been behind bars. He would like to attend a sweat lodge
A Sault Ste, Marie Police Service cruiser sits between two Wellington Street East homes in this Oct. 23, 2014 file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday

Michael Bjornaa has lost three family members during the time he's been incarcerated awaiting trial on numerous charges stemming from a shooting three years ago.

The 33-year-old Batchewana First Nation man's father died in 2016 and his godfather the previous year.

His younger sister Hillary passed away suddenly in July, and her death was "a shock" that has taken a mental, emotional and physical toll on him, Bjornaa told Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan.

He said he was mentally and emotionally prepared for his father's death and had spoken to him on the phone a number of times before he passed away.

But his 32-year-old sister's sudden passing, after experiencing an epileptic seizure, has left him feeling "kind of really lost."

"How can something like this be happening to me,"  he wondered.

Bjornaa was in court for a sentencing hearing after he was found guilty in June of five offences, including aggravated assault, in connection with an Oct. 22, 2014 shooting that wounded a Sault Ste. Marie man.

He told McMillan that his sister's body was cremated, and his mother wants to wait until he is released from custody to have a ceremony to bury her next to his father.

Bjornaa said he has spent 21 months learning about his ancestral roots, and wants to participate in the ceremony and a sweat lodge.

He said he's sober, has recently dealt with some issues and "the longer l'm in jail, I'm over the hump."

He assured the judge if released he's not about to do anything that would jeopardize the relationship he has re-established with his family.

"I'm not about to jeopardize my family's well being. If I do I'm banned for life."

Although he had not filed a formal application for bail, his lawyer Don Orazietti told the court he will be seeking an interim release.

"I acknowledge that my client isn't entitled to anything," he said. "Anything that happens here is on humanitarian grounds."

This matter had just arisen, Orazietti said, indicating he hadn't had a chance to look at the legal situation.

He asked if it would be possible to put the matter over until next week so he could find some authorities to argue the merits of the request.

Assistant Crown attorney Dana Peterson said she would require time to get information, and logistics from the Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre, where Bjornaa is housed.

McMillan said he's "never been presented with this kind of request before" and adjourned the matter until this morning.

When the court reconvened today, McMillan adjourned the case until next Wednesday, so the lawyers can prepare their materials and arguments about a possible interim release that would permit Bjornaa to attend the ceremony.

Bjornaa also was convicted of administering a noxious substance (pepper spray), discharge of a firearm with intent, unlawfully entering a dwelling to commit an indictable offence and breach of a weapon prohibition.

McMillan found him not guilty of attempted murder and using a firearm while committing the indictable offence of unlawfully being in a dwelling.

Bjornaa was involved in a shooting where his co-accused David Nadon shot another man numerous times with a handgun at a Wellington Street East residence.

Jayme Carlson (Bellerose) received 12 wounds in the attack, during which Bjornaa also attempted to zap him with pepper spray.

Nadon pleaded guilty last year to attempted murder and seven other related offences.

He was sentenced to a 10-year penitentiary term.

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