The NWT Court of Appeal dismissed an Edmonton drug dealer’s appeal of both his conviction and sentence after his arrest in Fort Providence with cocaine, a safe full of cash, and a loaded semi-automatic rifle in his rented vehicle.
On January 21, a three-judge panel heard defence lawyer Benjamin Lotery argue RCMP went too far in violating the Charter rights of Cassius Zane Paradis – and that Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood imposed an “unduly harsh” sentence, as the rifle wasn’t operational at the time of the arrest.
“In this case, the trial judge found the actions of the police reflected a lack of care for the appellant’s Charter rights, which she placed in the mid to serious end of the spectrum,” stated the appeal court’s written decision, issued late last week.
“The actions of the police were not abusive. The officers here were not deliberate in violating the Charter rights and were candid in their testimony,” the decision continued.
“The trial judge considered the interests engaged and the degree to which they were violated. She recognized that the appellant’s expectation of liberty and privacy was interfered with when his car was stopped without justification.
“In the circumstances we see no basis to interfere with the trial judge’s characterization of the impact of the breaches, nor with her conclusion that the effect was more than minimal, but not significant.”
In October 2018, Paradis was pulled over by RCMP while driving through the community with a 15-year-old male youth. Police had received tips that drugs were being dealt from a car that matched the description of Paradis’ rented Volkswagen Jetta.
Police stopped the vehicle and discovered a cache of weapons; approximately 131 grams of cocaine; a client “scoresheet;” and $4,000 in cash, much of it in a safe in the trunk. Paradis was on a 10-year weapons prohibition at the time.
Smallwood ruled there were several breaches of Paradis’ Charter rights during the police stop. These included arbitrarily detaining him, failing to advise him of the reason for his detention, failing to provide him with his right to counsel, and failures related to the subsequent search of the vehicle.
In May 2019, Smallwood sentenced Paradis, 30, to a total of five years in prison for several charges, including trafficking cocaine and possessing a semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle with a full 40-round clip. The rifle was jammed with an extra spring in the mechanism, but could have been quickly cleared by someone with knowledge of its operation.
Paradis was convicted of 12 drug and weapons-related offences but sentenced only on 10, owing to rules judges must follow regarding multiple convictions.
In addition to the five-year total sentence, Smallwood extended an existing firearms ban to 12 years and ordered Paradis to submit a DNA sample for the national crime databank.
Paradis was given credit for 10 months and two weeks of pre-trial custody, meaning at the time he had four years and six weeks left to serve.
‘Particularly serious threat’
The appeal court stated Smallwood’s experience in the North made her “aware of and sensitive to the needs of the community in which she serves.”
The admission of the evidence found in the vehicle driven by Paradis would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute, stated the appeal court, agreeing with Smallwood.
“She found, to the contrary, that the exclusion of the evidence would risk bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, and she admitted the evidence.”
In dismissing the appeal of the sentence, the appeal court stated the global sentence of five years was appropriate.
“These crimes present a particularly serious threat to the safety and security of the community,” stated the decision.
“Simply put, carrying a loaded restricted or prohibited firearm is an extremely dangerous act for which there is absolutely no justification.”
At sentencing, Smallwood declared courts need to send a strong message to deter others who would come to the North to deal drugs.
“People like Mr Paradis, who come from the south to traffic cocaine and prey upon our communities, must be condemned,” said the judge. “How can communities heal when people like Mr Paradis appear like vultures to profit off the weakness and addiction of others?”
The teenager found in the car with Paradis earlier pleaded guilty to a drug charge. Little is known of the youth, or how he came to be in the Jetta with Paradis.