The definition of what constitutes a “street-level” dealer or cocaine “wholesaler” was debated during a sentencing hearing in Supreme Court on Monday afternoon.
Liban Mohamood Mohammed, of Calgary, was found guilty after trial earlier this year of possessing 294.5 grams of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and proceeds of crime to the tune of $52,325.
In the summer of 2017, Mohammed was on parole after being convicted two years earlier of dealing cocaine. RCMP officers set up surveillance on Yellowknife’s Executive Apartments building, investigating the comings and goings of suspects in a major drug ring.
Police considered the drug ring to be part of a larger network, operating throughout Canada, that was attempting to establish a foothold in Yellowknife.
The major drug sweep resulted in the arrest of seven people – five suspected of moving to Yellowknife to sell drugs.
Only two of those people ended up on trial. In February, Calgary 28-year-old Mohammed was convicted while Gary James Gattie, 52, of Yellowknife, walked free.
Crown prosecutor Brendan Green noted a police officer had testified Mohammed was “at the top of whatever sort of organization existed here in Yellowknife for trafficking.”
Packaging found during the police raid, Green said, was consistent with that often used to package a kilogram of cocaine.
Green argued for an overall sentence of six years for the two charges. Mohammed has built up remand credit of 198 days that would be deducted from that time.
Green pointed to precedent-setting cases regarding minimum sentences for wholesale traffickers. “Wholesale is really about the weight in question,” said the prosecutor. “Here we are in the hundreds of grams … the sentence the Crown is suggesting is near the top of the applicable range.
“The rationale for the sentencing range was explained to Mr Mohammed in fact in his 2015 sentencing conviction.”
Green noted the sentencing judge in 2015 made some optimistic comments about Mohammed, which in hindsight are “somewhat jarring … given his subsequent conduct.”
In 2015, Mohammed received a sentence of 32 months.
“It appears that was not successful in deterring him and indeed his conduct has escalated,” said Green. “The Crown is suggesting the court’s response needs to escalate – and escalate significantly – to denounce and deter Mr Mohammed and other individuals [who would consider trafficking cocaine].”
Edmonton defence lawyer Jake Chadi disagreed with the Crown’s assertion that his client was a wholesaler of cocaine. He argued Mohammed is a street-level dealer who should be sentenced to at most four years for the trafficking charge, with 12 to 18 months served concurrently for the proceeds offence.
“If the Crown is going to allege wholesale commercial trafficking … there are a group of people in the supply chain who supply street-level dealers,” he said on the phone. “The importers are at the top of the chain, then come the distributors, then the wholesalers, then the street-level traffickers – there’s no magic to this hierarchy, that’s just the way it is, that’s how it works.”
Chadi referred to an RCMP police drug expert who “was absolutely clear” when he testified at trial that the drugs found would be packaged into “half-gram lots” and put out on the street.
“There could be more volume for street-level sales, as opposed to being a wholesaler,” he said. “The amount in this case is significant … this is high street-level trafficking.”
Appearing over the phone from a remand centre in Edmonton, Mohammed declined Justice Shannon Smallwood’s offer to say anything to the court.
She reserved her decision on sentencing until Friday at 1pm.
Of the five others charged in the 2017 police operation, two pleaded guilty prior to the February trial. Their sentences weren’t immediately available. Charges were stayed in the three other cases.
During the raid on the Executive Apartments on September 8, 2017, police used a battering ram on the apartment door, finding Mohammed inside. He initially gave a false name.
Police gained entry to an upstairs bedroom by kicking in the door. Inside were two safes, the cocaine and the cash, plus small baggies, digital scales, and several cell phones – one with text messages about drug deals.
Mohammed was on bail and was to be sentenced in June, but it was delayed when he stated he must self-quarantine after developing Covid-19 symptoms. Mohammed told the court he and his wife had taken an online Covid-19 self-evaluation on June 1 and he had been told by the University of Alberta Hospital to self-isolate for 14 days.
Smallwood changed Mohammed’s release conditions from an overnight curfew to 24-hour house arrest, except for medical visits.
Prosecutor Green said he was “extremely skeptical” over Mohammed’s claim to have symptoms of Covid-19. Later in June, tests results confirmed Mohammed did not have the novel coronavirus.
As Mohammed was also dragging his feet in meeting with a probation officer to compile a pre-sentence report, Smallwood then revoked Mohammed’s bail.