Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.



Judge ‘takes chance’ on Whatì man guilty of trafficking

An RCMP vehicle in Whatì
An RCMP vehicle in Whatì. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

A man who admitted trafficking crack cocaine ahead of a hand games tournament in Whatì will serve a conditional sentence in the community, avoiding jail.

Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar said he would “take a chance” on Craig James Rabesca, almost three years after Rabesca was arrested in the Tłı̨chǫ community on March 4, 2020.

Police had publicized Rabesca’s arrest as an example of RCMP efforts to “maintain public safety and prevent the entry of illicit drugs” in the months leading up to the completion of an all-season road that now connects Whatì to the wider highway network.

A Yellowknife courtroom heard on Friday that Rabesca had been found with 7.2 grams of crack cocaine wrapped into 62 baggies and a further 14 grams in the form of one larger piece.



An RCMP handout image shows suspected crack cocaine
An RCMP handout image shows wrapped baggies of crack cocaine that police said were found on Craig Rabesca’s person on March 4, 2020.

He had been asked to bring them to a hand games tournament in Whatì that weekend at the request of an unidentified third party, an agreed statement of facts read.

While the Crown sought a 12-month jail term, given the “quantity and nature” of the drug involved, Justice Mahar said Rabesca – who entered an early guilty plea – had “an unusual set of circumstances” that warranted an 18-month conditional sentence instead.

A conditional sentence is served outside jail but under a strict set of conditions. In this case, conditions imposed on Rabesca include six months’ house arrest and a ban on consuming alcohol or any intoxicant for the full 18 months.

Jay Bran, representing Rabesca, said his client had four young children and a fifth on the way. Rabesca’s partner and mother sat in the public gallery as he was sentenced.



“He has found new support in the community,” Bran added, pointing to the presence of Whatì Elder Mike Nitsiza in the courtroom. Bran said Nitsiza serves as a school counsellor and runs a regular men’s group in Whatì that Rabesca will be encouraged to attend.

Bran said Rabesca has struggled to find work in Whatì, picking up a few days’ employment as a security guard at an assembly last summer but little else.

Extra jobs created by the completion of the all-season road to Whatì often “go to the same people” who previously got work, Bran said on Rabesca’s behalf, leaving him out of the picture.

The judge noted that Rabesca faces a number of outstanding charges in Territorial Court, including some for assault of a peace officer. Charges from September, October and November last year are still to be dealt with by that court.

But Mahar said Rabesca had otherwise spent the past decade in almost no legal trouble, and described his limited past criminal record as “at odds” with his trafficking offence and the more recent charges, for which Rabesca has so far not been convicted.

“The real issue is risk to the public, and I don’t believe Mr Rabesca poses a significant risk,” Mahar said.

“You did well for 10 years,” he told Rabesca as sentencing concluded. “You can do it again. Your kids are counting on you.”