Convicted cocaine dealer Travis King’s own tearful words appear to have saved him from going to a federal prison down south on his latest charges.
Instead, the 22-year-old Yellowknifer will be lodged at North Slave Correctional Complex after pleading guilty to possession of property obtained by crime.
In Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon, NWT Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau added seven months to his existing 16-month sentence for trafficking.
“I have considered his own statements that he wants to turn the page and [work on] his rehabilitation … my sentence should support those efforts and not crush them,” Charbonneau said.
“[The] firmness of the message the court needs to send out must be tempered with mercy.”
Charbonneau said an offender’s background is always relevant when it comes to sentencing – especially if he or she is of Indigenous descent – but it doesn’t excuse the commission of crimes.
She needed to impose a meaningful sentence, she said, but rejected the Crown’s request for a sentence of between nine and 12 months.
That would have left King’s future in the hands of federal penitentiary officials, who could decide not to let him serve any of his sentence at the North Slave Correctional Complex – a territorial jail – but instead somewhere in southern Canada.
Charbonneau noted the Crown also described King as a lower-level player and not a senior member of the drug operation.
King was on bail with conditions for 2016 trafficking charges when he committed the May 2017 offence for which he was sentenced on Wednesday.
He was also on bail for that charge when he was arrested in Saskatchewan and charged with cocaine trafficking in the fall of 2017.
That case is still before the courts. Charbonneau said she had to consider King innocent of those charges as they have not yet been tested in a Saskatchewan court.
“The circumstances Mr King faced from very early in his life were extremely difficult and tragic,” Charbonneau said.
“This pre-sentence report is truly a heartbreaking read. No child should have to grow up in those circumstances. But sadly many do.”
In the spring of 2017, a federal surveillance operation focused on two locations: an apartment in the 300-block of Matonabee Street and campground number one at Fred Henne Territorial Park.
A Ford Escape – in which King was a passenger – under watch by the feds was stopped on May 31 and a search warrant was executed for the vehicle, a trailer in the campground, and the apartment.
Searches of the trailer, the vehicle and its occupants, and the apartment turned up approximately 35 grams of cocaine, a quantity of marijuana, roughly $20,000 in cash, cell phones, a shotgun, ammunition, and digital scales.
Earlier, in May 2016, King had been charged after a vehicle was stopped by RCMP between Enterprise and Hay River and more than 110 grams of powdered cocaine was found.
When sentencing him last June to 30 months with two years’ probation for possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, Justice Karan Shaner said the neglect King faced as a child – which included violence and alcohol abuse by adults his home – called for a lighter sentence than usual for similar crimes.
King was first apprehended by social workers at the age of one, as adults in his home were abusing alcohol. He was apprehended again a few years later and ended up homeless on the streets of Yellowknife in his teen years.
On Wednesday afternoon, Charbonneau echoed Shaner’s words.
She told King the seven-month consecutive term was “less than the Crown was seeking, but a little bit more than your defence counsel was asking. It is still, all things considered, quite a lenient sentence. I hope you understand that and that it helps you continue down the right path.”
On Monday, Crown prosecutor Brendan Green called for a sentence of between nine and 12 months.
Referring back to Monday’s appearance, when he addressed the court, Charbonneau said she could tell King was “a smart [and] strong” person.
“I’m sure you can turn things around,” she said.
On Monday, King told the court he wants to become “a law-abiding person” and escape the dark cloud hanging over himself and his siblings.
“I know there has been a lot of negativity [surrounding] me, my brother, and my family, and I want to break that chain,” he said, as his mother and girlfriend watched from the public gallery.
“I’m not a bad person,” he told the court.
King’s older brother, Denecho, is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 12 years for the second-degree murder of John Wifladt and aggravated assault of Colin Digness.
Another older brother, Denezah, pleaded guilty to mischief and breach of court conditions last year. He was also in court on Wednesday, but an assault charge against him was dismissed in territorial court when the Crown’s witness failed to show up.