Talal Khatib was not running a “legitimate small business” from his Inuvik home – where clients ran up to a window for hand-to-hand deals – but he also wasn’t trafficking cocaine, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Moreover, NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau ruled the 69-year-old wasn’t in possession of tens of thousands of dollars found by police in a mattress and heating ducts at 22 Kugmallit Road during an October 2017 raid.
“The Crown’s case suggests that he was involved in selling something and that this activity was not legal, but I’m left with a reasonable doubt whether that activity was cocaine trafficking and, in the end … whether he had knowledge and control of the crack cocaine and the powder cocaine that was found in the house,” said the judge.
“For these reasons, I found Mr Khatib not guilty.”
That verdict closed the latest chapter of Khatib’s dealings with the law – the last time he was arrested, in 2017, Inuvik’s council took the unusual step of asking the authorities to oppose bail – but raised questions about the investigation into the suspected drug operation.
The Crown seized 500 grams of marijuana, 50 grams of crack cocaine, 300 grams of powdered cocaine, $25,000 in cash, and some restricted weapons. But the only person charged is now a free man, living in Edmonton, who may have some of the cash returned to him if it can be agreed the money was not a direct proceed of crime.
Khatib’s housemate was the only person named on the lease and the only person the landlord dealt with. The housemate offered to pay someone for a repair job in white powder, in a baggie, that he said “was worth more than money,” the court heard.
But the housemate was never charged by RCMP.
When police conducted the raid, they found the couch near the window only contained some suspected salvia, an illegal psychoactive drug.
“I agree with the Crown that the evidence establishes Mr Khatib was running some sort of storefront operation from the residence,” Charbonneau told the court.
“There is however, no direct evidence – or not much evidence – as to what was being sold. The presence of two cans of bear spray near the window, the fact that what was being sold was concealed in the couch, and the manner in which all of this was taking place, including in what time of the day, is not consistent with this being a legitimate small business being run out of the home.
“That being said, while I heard police suspected those items found in the couch to be salvia, those items were not analyzed. There is no evidence as to what these packaged things were. And there is no evidence – expert or otherwise – about how salvia is sold and how much money it sells for. Finally, there was no individually wrapped cocaine anywhere in the residence.
“So the question is: what can I make of this evidence?”
The four-day trial concluded in Inuvik in August. Witnesses testified the Kugmallit Road house was a mess, with piles of objects and personal belongings tossed about on both levels. On the bottom level, where the housemate likely stayed, was a bucket used as a toilet.
The raid – the second in less than a year involving Khatib, a landlord and former restaurateur – found the following:
- $200 in a jacket near the front door, plus some other bills;
- $2,360 in a bedroom mattress;
- $564 in pants found in the same bedroom;
- $16,210 in a heat duct accessed from a vent in the kitchen;
- a piece of crack cocaine weighing 64 grams wrapped in a paper towel in the same duct; and
- $6,920 in another heat duct in a spare bedroom
Lastly, in that same duct – which could be accessed from above, where Khatib stayed, or from a basement room where the housemate was found by police – was 297 grams of powdered cocaine in two Gerber baby food bottles.
Nothing was in plain view, the judge noted. A crude hole was found by police in the spare bedroom connecting the two units.
Charbonneau said there was no dispute about what was found in the residence – cocaine consistent with being possessed for the purpose of trafficking. The defence conceded at the end of the trial that the large sums of money found in the heating ducts were the proceeds of crime.
“The central issue that I have to decide is whether the Crown has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr Khatib was in possession of the drugs and money, particularly the money that was in the heating ducts and the mattress,” she said.
“Mr Khatib is not on trial for being involved in nondescript general illegal activity. He was charged with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and possession of money obtained from the commission of an indictable offence.
“This is what he is specifically charged with. And this is what the Crown specifically has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Following the verdict, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane told Cabin Radio: “The Crown and RCMP will carefully consider Chief Justice Charbonneau’s reasons for judgment before making any further decisions.”