An RCMP handout photo displays drugs and cash seized in Inuvik in March 2019.
Motivated solely by “greed and profit,” an Edmonton man became a key player in Inuvik’s cocaine trade until he was arrested in March 2019, a court heard this week.
Ali Omar was found with large rolls of cash and a digital scale covered in cocaine residue in his cabin-style Inuvik motel room. After a trial, he was convicted this year of possession of property obtained by crime.
“Mr Omar was something more than a street-level dealer and he had access and responsibility in relationship with significant quantities of money,” Crown prosecutor Jeff Major-Hansford told a Tuesday sentencing hearing in NWT Supreme Court in Yellowknife.
“It’s clear from the evidence – and from the exchange of monetary transfers and text messages, and Mr Omar’s working with other individuals – that he gives the appearance [of being] one of the principal actors in Inuvik in the drug-trafficking enterprise.
“Mr Omar is not a person that struggles with addiction problems related to drugs [or was in] unusual financial straits or anything that explains a motivation, other than greed and profit.”
The Crown and defence positions on sentencing differed significantly. The Crown called for “in the range of” 30 months in prison. The defence argued for a three-year suspended sentence, with a similar period of probation that would include house arrest followed by a curfew and 150 hours of community service.
After RCMP seized $62,960 found in Omar’s room – at the Arctic Chalet Resort, on the edge of the Beaufort Delta town – his lawyer said he faced death threats “from the loss of currency.”
“Mr Omar did not personally participate in the trafficking of drugs. There’s no evidence to support that,” lawyer Lonnie Allen said via video link from his Edmonton office. “However, he was present during times where drugs were trafficked, and he was in possession of items supporting indicia of trafficking.”
Allen said following his arrest, Omar was released on strict conditions to remain in Inuvik, despite telling RCMP he had been receiving threats on his life.
“Someone broke into his room at midnight and pulled a knife on Mr Omar and threatened his life,” said the lawyer, adding that another individual with Omar, alleged to be trafficking drugs, was stabbed a month later.
“He was taken to hospital in … incredibly critical condition,” said the lawyer. “I’m informed that he survived.”
That man was never charged with crimes in conjunction with Omar’s arrest.
Charter breach and delays
Even after being allowed to return to Edmonton, Omar still “faced threats of violence” from the people who recruited him to go to Inuvik in the first place, said Allen.
“The circumstances of violence … significantly changed Mr Omar’s outlook on this type of business. He vows to never involve himself in that world again. And he has taken significant steps to separate himself from that world, moving to an island [in BC].”
Allen noted Omar, now 27, was born in Nairobi, Kenya. His family emigrated to Canada and the United States. He has since returned to attending a mosque and “embracing the teachings of the Islamic religion.”
Omar has been suffering “anxiety and depression” as he was ashamed to inform his family of the charges he faced and the outcome of the trial, the lawyer said.
Omar, who works as a barber, has also been dealing with the breakup of his relationship shortly after the couple had a baby this year. He hopes to reconcile “and be a good father” once his legal issues are over.
Allen said contributing to the stress his client faced was the prolonged time the case has taken to resolved itself through the courts. At 34 months from the time he was charged until the end of the trial, the range is beyond the so-called Jordan guideline of 30 months as the limit in Supreme Court.
Though some of the delays were due to courts closing during the global pandemic, Allen still asked Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau to consider that length of time while crafting a sentence.
Allen also noted a court had previously ruled on a “significant Charter breach” when RCMP violated Omar’s rights by conducting a traffic stop on him in Inuvik just to ascertain his identity and find out where he was residing.
“But for this significant Charter breach, [police] would not have been able to establish identity or place to search,” said Allen.
“On one hand, society needs to be protected from drug trafficking. I get that. On the other hand, society needs to be protected from carte-blanche police power to pull over and stop, legally search residents and those types of activities.”