One of the final chapters in Project Gloomiest brought a ray of sunlight for taxpayers on Thursday. Brett Lacey will be sentenced in his home province rather than flown back to Yellowknife on the public’s dime.
Four years ago, Lacey was 29 when he and 14 others were caught in a year-long RCMP operation against Yellowknife’s cocaine trade. More than 1.4 kg of cocaine and two firearms were seized.
Also seized were 116 grams of sodium bicarbonate – baking soda – said by some of the accused to be cocaine during deals with undercover RCMP officers. The operation was said to have disrupted two cocaine trafficking networks in the city.
In early December 2018, police published a list of people from the NWT, Alberta, and Ontario charged in the operation, alongside seven people for whom arrest warrants were outstanding.
One of those warrants was for Lacey, who was listed at the time as having no fixed address.
On Thursday in NWT Supreme Court, his lawyer said Lacey was later charged with three drug-related counts in Newfoundland.
“He was charged after he left the Northwest Territories and has never been in the Northwest Territories for the purpose of dealing with these charges,” said Peter Harte. “I’ve always appeared … in accordance with his instructions, due to the financial constraints that he faces with respect to returning.”
Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau noted if the Crown had not decided to transfer the case to Newfoundland, the on-release Lacey – who cannot afford a plane ticket – would ultimately have to be taken into custody and escorted back to Yellowknife.
“This appears to be a very reasonable way to finally dispose of these items without incurring a lot of expenses,” she said, adding travel represented a risk due to Covid-19.
“I understand there are many reasons why the Crown sometimes resists the transfer of charges … one of them is to ensure that people are accountable to the jurisdiction where they have committed offences [and are sentenced] in accordance with the sentencing practices in the jurisdiction where the offences were committed.”
Harte said Lacey will now plead guilty in writing to two of three counts he faced: trafficking cocaine on March 14, 2018, and trafficking in a substance represented or held out to be cocaine on April 10, 2018.
Lacey will waive his Charter rights to be tried within a reasonable time, as the transfer and sentencing dates in Newfoundland could take some time to complete. The transfer requires federal approval, expected by Charbonneau to be a formality.
Charbonneau asked Crown prosecutor Nakita McFadden to impress upon her counterparts in Newfoundland “how seriously the courts in this jurisdiction treat drug trafficking offences because of some of the vulnerabilities our communities have to that type of activity.”
Of the 15 people charged or sought in 2018, several were sentenced in 2020. Whether all the people sought were ever found is not clear.
Project Gloomiest began after the territory’s police received a tip from Canada’s financial intelligence agency about “suspicious movements of money” linked to the NWT’s drug trade, police said at the time.
The main player targeted by the operation was Toufic Chamas, an Edmonton man now serving a lengthy sentence for trafficking cocaine and various firearms offences.