A Yellowknife woman who transformed her life after being caught in a drug bust will go to jail for four months – the lowest sentence a judge said he could possibly deliver.
An emotional scene played out as Tracey Beatrice Woods was sentenced in the city’s courthouse on Monday afternoon.
The presiding judge praised a defence lawyer for his “exceptional” job in arguing, at length, why his client shouldn’t go to jail – and should instead receive a suspended sentence, with extended probation, for dealing crack cocaine.
Woods’ troubled and traumatic childhood left her on the streets by the time she was 14, the court heard. The years that followed in Yellowknife were “a mess of abusive relationships and drug addiction,” said lawyer Tracy Bock.
But the 46-year-old had worked extremely hard to turn her life around, the change being “unbelievable,” he said, presenting a thick file containing letters of support and diplomas from courses Woods had taken since being arrested in March 2017.
“Miss Woods has done so much … I don’t want to see that interrupted,” he said. “This is an amazing story of survival and resiliency.
“She has made great strides in overcoming her past.”
However, Crown prosecutor Duane Praught insisted a suspended sentence was not applicable to the street-level dealing for which Woods was arrested, during an RCMP undercover operation known as Project Glacier.
He called for a jail term of between six to eight months, acknowledging Woods had no criminal record and was clean and sober when arrested for running a small-scale dial-a-dope operation.
In the end, Justice Andrew Mahar said his hands were tied by Court of Appeal decisions. He ordered a weeping and despondent Woods to jail for four months – a significantly shorter sentence than others have received for similar crimes, the judge said.
“The Court of Appeal has made it clear I must give great weight to denunciation and deterrence … that is general deterrence. I don’t believe you will ever do this again,” said Mahar to Woods, noting one-year sentences for street-level dealing aren’t uncommon.
“It is important for this court to send a consistent message when it comes to dealing with the drug trade. I don’t think this court has ever gone below six months … it is the lowest I think I can go. I wish that I had the option of a conditional sentence.
“You’ve had a horrible childhood and a horrible life as an adult. All I can do is wish you the best.”
Woods will be on probation for two years when she is released, which could be in two and a half months with good behaviour, the judge noted.
Mahar asked that corrections officials do everything they can to ensure the progress Woods made while on bail won’t be damaged too much by her time in jail.
“I’m very sorry for my wrong actions,” Woods told the court when Mahar asked if she had anything to say. “I know that drugs are bad for people.
“I’ve changed my lifestyle. I have been taking counselling and I’m presently going to the native women’s school, working towards my GED. I’m now moving forward with my life.”
Woods’ lawyer said his client’s determination to escape her life of turmoil resulted in her becoming an inspiration to others.
The Yellowknifer newspaper covered her activities on several occasions, including in June 2018, when she was one of six women to receive certificates for completing employment-readiness training through the Native Women’s Association of the NWT.
“I feel… thankful that I kept going and I kept pushing myself,” she told the newspaper at the time. “It was hard, but I still did it. I’m proud of myself.”
In January 2018, she was shown in a newspaper photograph leading a Sisters in Spirit walk in downtown Yellowknife, honouring Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in the NWT and across Canada.
The court heard Woods was caught up in the dial-a-dope sting after she began answering calls made to her boyfriend’s cell phone while he was in jail.
Undercover police made several calls to Woods, who would then arrange for crack cocaine valued at $100 to be purchased from different locations in the city.
At one point in the proceedings on Monday, Bock suggested his client had been a victim of entrapment by the police.
“She was a low-hanging target for RCMP,” he said, noting Woods made very little money handling the cocaine transactions.