A man found in an Inuvik hotel room with nearly $63,000 in cash and a digital scale covered in cocaine residue has been sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment.
Ali Omar, who turns 28 next month, was convicted of possessing the proceeds of crime in February. In March 2019, police in Inuvik confiscated $62,960 in cash from him. (RCMP initially estimated the cash amount was closer to $69,000.)
Omar’s cellphone, also confiscated, contained messages indicating he was involved in cocaine trafficking.
NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau on Thursday morning sentenced Omar to 26 months’ imprisonment for the crime.
During his sentencing hearing earlier this month, Omar’s lawyer, Lonnie Allen, argued his client should receive a three-year suspended sentence, meaning Omar would be on probation rather than serving jail time.
The defence lawyer pointed out Omar has no prior criminal record, there was no evidence he directly participated in drug trafficking, and police violated his charter rights during their investigation. Allen added Omar has taken significant steps toward rehabilitation and has made a “180-degree turn” in his life.
Since Omar’s arrest, the court heard, he has moved to BC to be closer to his family and has been working full-time as a barber. Omar said he hopes to open his own barbershop one day and wants to reconcile with his former partner, who recently gave birth to their child.
Crown prosecutor Jeff Major-Hansford argued Omar should be sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, saying evidence indicates he was “one of the principal actors” in the drug-trafficking enterprise in Inuvik. The lawyer said Omar was motivated purely by “greed and profit,” as he does not struggle with addictions and was not in “unusual financial straits.”
Charbonneau on Thursday said a suspended sentence should be reserved for “exceptional circumstances,” which was not the case for Omar.
While she acknowledged that Omar’s “rehabilitative potential is undeniable,” she said northern courts take crimes involving the drug trade seriously because of how destructive that trade is to communities.
She said Omar’s story was similar to that of other young men who have been lured by the promise of quick and easy money by taking advantage of the market in the North, without thinking about the harm it could cause.
Charbonneau accepted that Omar was not the mastermind of the drug operation in Inuvik as he had been recruited by someone in southern Canada. But he was more than just a street-level dealer, the judge said, as he handled large sums of money.
Charbonneau said Omar likely became aware of the seriousness of the drug trade after two alleged incidents following his arrest. According to Allen, someone broke into Omar’s room in Inuvik and threatened him with a knife. A month later, another man alleged to be trafficking drugs in Inuvik was stabbed and seriously injured.
With credit for a brief period in pre-trial custody, Omar has 25 months and 14 days of his sentence remaining.