A Toronto-area drug dealer who travelled to Inuvik to peddle a “not insignificant” amount of crack cocaine in 2019 has sought solace in religion while on bail in an attempt to turn his life around.
On Tuesday, an NWT Territorial Court judge in Yellowknife heard that Osama Nawaz, 21, has put in 279 hours of community service at a Muslim community centre in Etobicoke which collects and distributes food and halal products for those in need.
“I’ve never had a case before me in the past where doing something like that was offered as a mitigating factor,” said Chief Judge Robert Gorin, noting it’s more usual for remorseful accused to seek counselling for addiction or mental health issues.
“I’ve never really had a case where someone has done his penance, as it were, in advance. I don’t know what to make of it.”
Defence lawyer Mark Hogan, of Mississauga, said it demonstrates his client’s level of remorse for his crime – which was also expressed in his guilty pleas on two counts – and his desire “to get his life back on track.”
In February 2020, seven months after being arrested in Inuvik and while at home on bail, Nawaz hit a “turning point” when he was shot in his hand and abdomen, the court heard.
Details surrounding the incident weren’t provided, but Hogan said it was then that Nawaz reconnected with his Islam religion, earned the support of family members and started his volunteer work.
Nawaz had no criminal record and had never been to the Northwest Territories before he flew to Inuvik in the summer of 2019 to deal crack cocaine. It’s unknown if he brought the drugs with him or sourced them in the community.
There were five adults in the house in Inuvik when the police raided it. Three were from out of town and Nawaz was the only person charged. He was “left holding the bag,” said his lawyer, who asked for a sentence of 12 months followed by lengthy probation with a curfew.
“I just want to say I came here [today] to take responsibility for what I did,” a soft-spoken Nawaz told the court.
Crown prosecutor Jeff Major-Hansford told the court just under 20 grams of cocaine were seized by RCMP at the time of the raid, along with $4,360 and other items. Nawaz was found to be carrying a knife concealed in his groin area.
The starting sentence for trafficking cocaine at a commercial level in the NWT is three years, said the prosecutor.
Noting Nawaz has no criminal record and has made “positive pro-social choices” while on bail, Major-Hansford said he should spend a total of 18 months in jail.
Judge Gorin sided more with the Crown and sentenced Nawaz to 16 months in jail, along with a DNA collection order and a 10-year firearms ban.
He told Nawaz his sentence would have been much longer – up to two years – if he had been found guilty after trial, but his rehabilitative efforts and young age called for a significant reduction.
“Mr Nawaz, something that is very important at this stage of your life is your religion,” said Gorin. “I don’t know a great deal about Islam, but I do know that one of the most important principles is one common to other major religions: to treat people like you would like to be treated.
“Trafficking, especially here in the North, in a hard drug can have a devastating effect on the communities. The amount of cocaine you had in your possession was not insignificant.”