A Prince Albert judge railed against the growing prevalence of crystal meth earlier this month while sentencing a woman to 27 months in prison for drug trafficking.
Carrie Bellerose was one of a number of people arrested when an Integrated Street Enforcement Team search warrant was executed at a rural property in the Rural Municipality of Birch Hills.
When police entered, they saw Bellerose run into the bathroom. They broke down the door and found here in possession of 30.1 grams of methamphetamine in a glasses case. They found an additional nine grams of meth in baggies on the living room table.
According to an expert witness, the most common daily purchase of crystal meth is 1/10th of one gram, referred to as a “point” and costs about $10. A heavy user might consume up to one gram of meth per day.
The 39 grams of meth found in Bellerose’s possession was enough for 39 to 390 doses and would have fetched a street value ranging from $3,120 to $3,900.
The police determined that Bellerose, in addition to using the drug herself, served as a mid-level dealer in a dial-a-dope operation, selling to other dealers who sold to users on the street.
According to the facts filed before the court, Bellerose suffered a brain aneurysm on May 27 and spent two months in the hospital. She suffered from some brain damage and had to relearn how to speak and how to walk. She had a good work history until about one year before her brain aneurysm and currently can’t work due to her brain damage.
She argued she didn’t use drugs prior to her hospitalization, but Judge Lane seemed skeptical of that argument
According to a pre-sentence report, Bellerose showed little remorse, saying that she “guesses it is fair” that she had been charged. She claimed to hate crime but said that the police have been mean to her.
“By way of editorial comment, perhaps she has never seen the destructive effect that crystal methamphetamine has on users in the same way police have,” Lane wrote.
He noted that Bellerose had a minimal plan to avoid crime in the future, and had not made any effort to access addiction services or other counselling while awaiting trial, factors that worked against her when it came to determining her sentence. He also said that Bellerose sold crystal meth not just to fund her addiction, but also to make some profit and pay for her housing.
Lane said the prevalence of crystal meth in Prince Albert was something that had caused him concern.
“To better understand the seriousness of the impact of crystal methamphetamine, one must look at the Prince Albert experience,” he wrote.
“Offences involving crystal methamphetamine have become, in my experience, bt far the most prevalent drug use in Prince Albert. I would suggest that the overwhelming majority of (drug) charges in Prince Albert that I see involve crystal methamphetamine, with the remainder being primarily cocaine … I see these charges virtually every day in court and, with great frequency, other charges that typically accompany crystal methamphetamine charges include firearms offences.
“I see victims of addiction to crystal methamphetamine in court, some almost literally dying in front of me.”
Lane said that many previous cases have discussed the highly addictive and “destructive nature” of crystal meth. He said that the courts now see it as being as or more addictive and destructive than heroin.
“Another comment I would make is on what I see is the increasing frequency of property crime in Prince Albert,” Lane continued.
“The significant number of those cases, if not the majority, are driven by people who suffer from an addiction to crystal methamphetamine. The citizens of Saskatchewan in general and Prince Albert, in particular, deserve a better and safer community. The citizens expect the courts to deal seriously with offences involving the use of and distribution of crystal methamphetamine.”
To Lane, that means going after drug traffickers.
“A significant fear I have, and this is not based on evidence, but common sense, is that if the courts do not remove those inclined to traffic crystal methamphetamine from society for a period of time, the public may begin to take the law into its own hands, resulting in potentially violent acts of vigilantism,” he said.
“ My fear increases every time I see another residential break and enter where the homeowners are in the house and during sentencing on those offences, representations in court indicate that the accused was using crystal methamphetamine.”
Lane had the Crown file stats from the police on the effects of crystal meth in the city. That report showed a significant increase in the presence of the drug since 2013/14. At the same time, thefts have increased by 20 per cent and mental health/suicide attempts by 46 per cent. Lane said the only thing he found surprising was that the increase in crystal meth-related offences was not higher.
“I was involved with Provincial Court as a lawyer and as a judge out of La Ronge, Saskatchewan from 2004 to 2017 and not once in that time did I see anyone charged with possession of crystal methamphetamine,” he said.
“I was stunned when I moved to Prince Albert and saw that the overwhelming majority of charges under the CDSA involved crystal methamphetamine and while I cannot and do not take judicial notice of the prevalence of crystal methamphetamine use in Saskatoon, it would appear as though that particular drug is an immense problem and growing rapidly in that city.”
According to the Metis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan, the rate of clients addicted to crystal meth and other substances, such as alcohol, have surpassed the number of clients addicted to alcohol alone, which has made it more difficult to provide adequate treatment. While they are starting to see more cases of crystal meth use in the north, they indicated those numbers weren’t as high in northern communities.
Lane said he originally agreed with the Crown’s submission, that Bellerose should receive 33 months in custody. However, he took into account the fact that she had been doing well in the Homeward Bound program and taking some steps to move her life in the right direction.
He settled on 27 months in custody, with credit for time served in remand. While the exact time of her stay in remand was not indicated, it appears she was in custody for one day on this particular offence.
He struggled with balancing denunciation and deterrence with his hopes for the rehabilitation of Bellerose.
“This is by far the most difficult sentencing decision I have ever had to deal with,” he said.