An Edmonton man found with large rolls of cash and a digital scale covered in cocaine residue in his Inuvik motel room has been convicted of possessing the proceeds of crime.
Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau ruled that Ali Omar was guilty of the charge in NWT Supreme Court on Monday, following trial. She aknowledged the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, but described it as “a strong body of circumstantial evidence.”
“He was the only one in the room,” she said of Omar. “There was no sign of anyone else having been there. Several items associated with him or to him were found in the room — he was clearly not merely passing by or at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Omar was charged on March 9, 2019, after RCMP executed a search warrant on his cabin-style room at the Arctic Chalet Resort on the edge of Inuvik. Police had been surveilling Omar as he drove around the Beaufort Delta town, making short stops at buildings and what appeared to be at least one hand-to-hand exchange.
During the search of his hotel room, RCMP found about $62,960 in Canadian currency, drug paraphernalia including plastic baggies and scales, a folding knife, bank cards and two cell phones.
Charbonneau criticized how police gathered some of that evidence — such as the plastic baggies — particularly when it came to inadequate note-taking, and photographing but not seizing some items. She also noted that investigating officers failed to even turn on the digital scales to see if they worked.
“It would have been a relatively easy step to turn the scale on and take a picture showing that it was in fact in operation,” she said. “But given that cocaine residue was identified on it, at some point it was used … to weigh cocaine. So whether it worked or not at the time of seizure is inconsequential.”
Charbonneau had twice ruled against the defence’s attempts to have evidence against Omar excluded from trial over Charter Of Rights violations.
“I concluded that although Mr Omar’s rights were breached, the evidence should not be excluded,” the judge said.
The texts and emails found on one of the cell phones recovered from Omar’s room showed he was not running a “dial-a-dope” operation out of the motel, Charobonneau said, rather he was communicating with an associate or someone higher up.
Omar’s trial was held in Yellowknife in November.
Charbonneau had ruled he was allowed to use some of the cash seized from his hotel room in Inuvik to pay his lawyer. The exact amount of the money used has not been disclosed.
The court heard that Omar — who has since reportedly moved to BC — had trouble securing stable employment and was still paying what he said cost $5,000 to fly himself and his lawyer, Lonnie Allen, from Edmonton to Inuvik and stay there.
Charbonneau noted at the time the intent of laws related to the proceeds of crime are to ensure “crime does not pay.” Referencing rulings from the Ontario and Canadian supreme courts, however, she said the accused’s presumption of innocence is paramount.
Omar is scheduled to be sentenced on March 21. The Crown will be seeking jail time, while the defence will argue for a non-custodial sentence.