VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A recent decision by BC’s highest court should make it easier to put drug dealers behind bars for longer than six months.
Last Friday’s ruling by the court involved the sale of heroin laced with the deadly opioid fentanyl to an undercover police officer in Vancouver more than two years ago. When 60-year-old Frank Stanley Smith was arrested in January of 2015, he claimed he didn’t know he was selling something that was 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Last year, the first-time offender was sentenced to six months behind bars, but prosecutors filed an appeal suggesting a more appropriate term would have been up to 36 months.
Even though three appeal court judges upheld the original sentence, they determined a higher range is warranted when it comes to dealing with the illicit consumption of drugs like fentanyl. Similar cases in Ontario have resulted in sentences as high as 40 months.
Minister for Public Safety Mike Morris tells NEWS 1130 he supports the idea of cracking down on drug dealers.
“I think the courts are recognizing the dangers fentanyl present to society. The folks that are trafficking this are selling it to some of the most vulnerable that we have in the province. And there have been hundreds of deaths. There have been thousands of overdoses. There are hundreds of people that are suffering permanent physical and mental damage as a result of the overdoses. From this day forward, I’m hoping that the rest of the trials will take this into consideration.”
It’s been nearly a year since the province’s top doctor declared a public health emergency due to a spike in deadly opioid overdoses, and since then the numbers haven’t really gone down. “The police at all levels right across Canada are targeting national and international trafficking, and of course at the street level — they’re very engaged in that. We are upping our game and we’re not going to let up until we get fentanyl off the street,” adds Morris.
Late last year, both Vancouver’s police chief and mayor came together asking the province for more help to deal with drug epidemic. At the time, Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer asked for increased funding for more beds and treatment options instead of simply pushing an education campaign.
VPD Staff Sergeant Randy Fincham echoes the chief’s sentiments and adds those campaigns haven’t resulted in a drop in statistics. “When we saw it show up in Vancouver a couple of years ago we were hoping it would be short-lived, we were hoping through public education, awareness that we’d be able to share the potential harm and dangers of fentanyl but that doesn’t appear to be happening. Deaths are on the rise in Vancouver and now throughout Canada, as a result of fentanyl.”
He adds any help that any level of government can provide to tackle this issue is welcome. “It’s certainly not my place, or our place, to say or provide recommendations to the federal government. But anything we see that is encouraging people to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl and discouraging people from selling fentanyl to people who could ultimately die, is a move in the right direction.”
Last year more than 900 people died of opioid overdoses in BC.