As the country copes with the opioid crisis, the highest court in Alberta has now set a new sentencing starting point for those convicted of fentanyl trafficking. The court recognized the peril that Alberta is in and stressed that it is up to the courts “to protect the public by imposing sentences that will alter the cost-benefit math performed by high-level fentanyl traffickers”.
A special five-justice panel of the Alberta Court of Appeal heard two appeals by the Crown prosecutor regarding fentanyl trafficking and unanimously ruled that convictions for wholesale fentanyl trafficking should receive a minimum sentence of nine years.
THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING CAMERON PARRANTO
Last year, Cameron O’Lynn Parranto (“Parranto”), who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for trafficking in fentanyl in Edmonton. Police seized the equivalent of a half-million doses of fentanyl.
Parranto pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking in fentanyl and other drugs for two sets of offences.
After a search warrant was executed at Parranto’s home, police recovered 27.8 grams of fentayl, 182.5 grams of methamphetamine, 82.6 grams of cocaine, 396 morphine pills and 168 oxycodone pills. They also found $55,575 in cash, a loaded handgun, ammunition, police and sheriff badges, body armour, a dozen cell phones, scales and a cash counter.
Following Parranto’s release for his first set of offences, he was arrested three months later when greater quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and the date rape drug GHB were uncovered.
Parranto pleaded guilty to both sets of offences and was handed an 11-year sentence for eight offences, five years for the March 2016 offences and 6 years for the October 2016 offences.
The court of appeal increased Parranto’s sentence to 14 years, minus credit of 3 ½ years for pre-sentence custody.
THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING PATRICK FELIX
Earlier this year, Patrick Felix (“Felix”), a wholesale drug trafficker in Fort McMurray, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his role in trafficking fentanyl after pleading guilty. Investigators seized approximately $1 million worth of drugs and 3,000 fentanyl pills.
Felix obtained drugs and stored them at a “stash” location. He employed “runners” to take orders, retrieve the drugs from the stash location and complete the deals. “Food bosses” were also used to manage the runners, collect money from the sales and then provide Felix with the proceeds.
In 2015, Felix sold drugs to an undercover police officer on six separate occasions. Felix provided 2,388 fentanyl pills and 2.5 kilograms of cocaine for a total price of $173,400.
At trial, Felix pleaded guilty to four counts of trafficking in fentanyl and cocaine. He was sentenced to seven years for each count of fentanyl trafficking and four years for each count of cocaine trafficking to be served concurrently. A concurrent sentence occurs when all sentences are served at the same time, with the longest sentence period controlling the length of time in jail.
The Crown prosecutor appealed the sentence and requested that the appeal court establish a minimum sentence for those convicted of wholesale trafficking in opioids. On appeal, the Crown also argued that the trial judge made “case-specific errors that affected the fitness of the sentence imposed”.
At the appeal, Justice Antonio wrote that the sentence imposed by the trial judge was “demonstrably unfit” in part due to the judge’s failure to distinguish between commercial trafficking and wholesale trafficking and failing to take into account Felix’s role in the organization.
Justice Antonio, writing on behalf of all the judges on the bench, stated:
Mr. Felix’s role was at the top of his organization, which is a weighty aggravating factor. He energetically ran a business that was structured to maximize profit while minimizing the chance of criminal consequences to himself. He was responsible for pouring poison into his own community and potentially others, jeopardizing the health and lives of untold numbers of end users.
Trafficking in cocaine has a four-and-a-half year starting point for sentencing. A starting point for sentencing of a low-level commercial dealer of heroin is typically five years.
The court will take into account the dangerousness of the drug and the scale of the offender’s involvement in the drug operation when establishing a minimum sentence for those convicted. The court of appeal found that wholesale trafficking is more morally blameworthy than commercial trafficking as it presents a grave danger to individuals, communities and the greater public interest. The appeal court defined wholesale trafficking as one that traffics large amounts of one or more drugs or distributes drugs on a large scale, possibly for resale.
Given the appeal court’s comments, the Crown was successful on appeal and set a starting point for those found guilty of commercial trafficking at nine years. Felix’s overall sentence was increased by the court to 10 years.
If you have been charged with a drug related charge or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.