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Trafficking / Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking

The Charge

A person can be charged under the Cannabis Act for trafficking or possessing cannabis for the purpose of trafficking unless it is in accordance with the regulations set out in that Act. The penalties for trafficking cannabis illegally remain severe: if the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is up to 14 years in jail; should Crown proceed summarily, the maximum sentence is 6 months in jail.

With respect to other controlled drugs, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act sets out that different potential penalties depend on the type and amount of drug involved. Controlled drugs and substances are grouped into “schedules” by the CDSA. Drugs are divided into groups according to their chemical composition. Some of the typical drugs are:

Schedule 1: cocaine, morphine, heroin, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, GHB, opium, amphetamines, MDMA
Schedule 2: cannabis, resin, and seeds
Schedule 3: LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms
Schedule 4: barbiturates, Clonazepam, Diazepam, and anabolic steroids
Schedule 5: precursors involved in the manufacturing of controlled substances

Penalties for both trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking in hard drugs is significant. The maximum sentence is up to lifetime imprisonment for Schedule 1 or 2 substances. The range of sentencing typically starts at 9-12 months in jail for a low level trafficking offence.

Courts have defined trafficking to include “giving” or “delivering” a drug to another person. Profit is not an element of the offence, however the Crown will certainly seek greater penalties where then can show that the offence was motivated by financial gain. The more the facts of the case point to the accused profiting from an organized distribution system, the greater the sentence Crown will seek upon conviction.

The Investigation

Police may be targeting a suspected drug trafficker based on information provided through a tip or, alternatively, police may literally stumble across a suspected drug trafficker during, say, a routine traffic stop or another encounter. In either situation, the law is the same. Police may not search someone for drugs unless they have “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe the person is in possession of a controlled substance. A mere hunch, or suspicion, is not enough.

As experienced drug defence lawyers, we can help clients understand their various rights under the Charter. First, everyone who is detained or arrested by police has the right to be promptly advised as to the reason for their detention and that they have the right to speak to a lawyer. This right is guaranteed by s. 10. The right to remain silent – i.e. the right to not provide a statement to police – is guaranteed by s. 7. In the context of a drug investigation, it is important for a suspect to know and understand that they have the right to remain silent upon arrest. Should charges be approved, the Crown will be obligated to provide full disclosure of the details of the case to the accused. There is clearly an advantage to understand the case against you before providing an explanation. This is the right of everyone in Canada.

Recent Successes

R. v. R.L. – New Westminster Supreme Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to continue with the prosecution in this retrial after a deadlocked jury decision.
Result: upon considering all of Mr. Mines' representations, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.H. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to continue with the prosecution in this retrial after a deadlocked jury decision.
Result: upon considering all of Mr. Mines' representations, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.J. – Downtown Community Court

Charge: Theft of property of a value not exceeding $5,000
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnston identified weaknesses in the available video evidence which persuaded the Crown to direct a stay of proceedings on the charge. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.M. = Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnston provided Crown counsel with information about our client’s circumstances, including his lack of prior criminal offending, his efforts at rehabilitation, and the fact that a conviction for either offence could result in the client’s deportation, an outcome which Mr. Johnston argued would be disproportionate to the seriousness of alleged offences. At the same time, Mr. Johnston pointed out weaknesses in the evidence against our client. The Crown directed stays of proceedings on both charges. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.V. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Uttering Threats x3; Criminal Harassment; Breach of Release Order (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution of these matters.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel that it was more appropriate to deal with these matters in the context of Family Court. Ultimately Crown did not approve the uttering threats and criminal harassment charges and Mr. Gauthier persuaded Crown that there was no public interest in prosecuting the breach charge and to enter a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. K.L. – Terrace RCMP Investigation

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines presented additional information to Crown counsel which resulted in Crown  declining to approve any charge.  No criminal record.

R. vs. O.P. – Victoria Provincial Court

Charges: Voyeurism; Criminal harassment.
Issue: Whether Crown could prove that our client actually recorded and distributed images without consent of the complainant.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed only on the criminal harassment charge. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the trial judge granted our client a conditional sentence order with a curfew for two months. No jail.

R. vs. T.B. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Indecent Act; Assault With a Weapon; Possessing of a Weapon for Dangerous Purpose (x2); Robbery; Uttering Threats; Theft of Property of a Value not Exceeding $5,000.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with prosecution of all counts; whether a jail sentence was appropriate.
Result: Mr. Johnston identified weaknesses in the evidence which persuaded the Crown there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on the Indecent Act charge.  Mr. Johnston persuaded Crown counsel  to resolve the case on three of the remaining counts and to stay all remaining charges. After hearing Mr. Johnston's submissions regarding our client's personal circumstances and his significant rehabilitation efforts,  the Court agreed to release our client from custody and to place him on a probation order with conditions supporting his rehabilitation. No further jail time.

R. vs. M.G. – RCMP Investigation

Charges: Possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood that Crown could establish that our client was a willing participant in the alleged drug trafficking scheme.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information and persuade police to not seek any criminal charges against our client. No No charges were approved. Our client's vehicle was retuned. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.K. – New Westminster Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a reasonable likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide additional information and persuaded Crown counsel stay the charge upon our client completing the Alternative Measures Program. No criminal record.  

R. vs. K.L. – Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Assault Peace Officer.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction in this case which involved an alleged assault of a police officer.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information and a video to Crown counsel which showed that the police made an unlawful arrest thereby giving our client lawful grounds to defend himself. Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown to not approve any charges. No criminal record.

R. vs. C.D. – Vernon Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a weapon; Mischief to property.
Issues: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution in this case where our client allegedly intentionally collided with the complainant's vehicle.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided additional information to Crown counsel and was able to persuade Crown to resolve this matter with a s.810 Recognizance (Peace Bond).    

The Defence

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The role of defence counsel in a drug case often involves analyzing the actions of investigating police officers to test whether they have, in fact, conducted a lawful search as authorized by the Charter. Drug searches can take place in a variety of contexts and places. In some situations, police must obtain pre-authorization from a judge or justice in order to search a place or thing. The requirement to obtain a search warrant will depend on the privacy interest the accused has in the thing searched. For example, a person has a very high privacy interest in their home or in their personal computer. They tend to have a lower privacy interest in things such as their friend’s car or their employer’s desk. Where police overreach their authority and search someone on a mere hunch, or based on assumptions rather than fact, we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence excluded from the trial. The general idea is that when police obtain evidence from an unlawful search that violates our client’s rights, the court ought to see the evidence as “tainted” and tending to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Without the admission of the drug evidence into the trial, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Drugs were not for the Purpose of Trafficking

In order to prove possession for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown will usually bring a police expert witness to court. They will testify that the circumstances of the drug seizure tend to prove that the drugs were intended to be sold or distributed. Typical evidence relates to the way the drugs are packaged – many small packs suggest trafficking. The presence of scales, “score sheets,” cash and cell phones also tend to suggest trafficking. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert Crown witnesses on their opinions that the circumstances of the drug seizure necessarily suggest trafficking rather than simple possession. In many cases we have been able to negotiate possession for the purpose of trafficking charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without drugs directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and drugs are found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, but none of the drugs are found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the substance in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting drug offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.