A four-month relationship turned into a legal nightmare for a woman from the north living in Prince Albert who found herself manipulated into the drug trade, a provincial court judge ruled last month.
The woman received 18-months of probation for one charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
She didn’t benefit from the crime in any way, Judge Daunt ruled, instead just handing off drugs for her then-boyfriend, and allowing her apartment to be used to store cocaine.
The boyfriend, Victor Quan, is currently serving a sentence of five years, less time spent on remand, in a federal penitentiary.
While the Crown had asked for 18 months of prison followed by 18 months of probation, the defence argued for a more lenient sentence, arguing, according to the written decision, that Quan “exploited her youth and cocaine dependency to enrich himself,” and that she committed the crime for love, not money.
The defence argued that she “made a mistake by getting romantically involved with a drug trafficker for a short period of time.”
Daunt seemed to agree.
The woman pleaded guilty in July of 2019. She was due to be sentenced in April but had it pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the facts of the case, the woman, who hails from the north, met Quan, who is ten years older than her, in August 2018. By September, he was living in her apartment. A month later, they were under surveillance as part of a drug trafficking investigation.
In December of that year, police searched her apartment. There, they found the woman, along with Quan. He was wearing blue latex gloves with cocaine residue on them.
They also found about 10 ounces, or 283.87 grams, of cocaine in her apartment, with an estimated street value of between $10,800 and $28,000.
Only 1.84 grams of cocaine was found at Quan’s home, but officers also located $25,800 in cash.
Little belonging to the woman was found in Quan’s home, aside from a library card next to a $10 bill and a plate of less than .1 gram of cocaine, suggesting personal use.
When she pleaded guilty, it was because of helping Quan. The woman said she had no control over the drugs seized, though she knew they were in her apartment. She also admitted that she helped sell the drugs, and knew that Quan was a mid-level cocaine trafficker. She never received money from the drug trade, but distributed about a gram of cocaine on at least two occasions.
In exchange, she only received a partial month’s rent, a coat and some cocaine for her own use.
There was no other evidence presented of her participation in drug trafficking.
“While Mr. Quan ran a profitable enterprise, (the woman) did not participate in the proceeds,” Daunt wrote.
While Quan has a lengthy criminal record with a history of robbery, trafficking or weapons offences, the woman has no trouble with the law and has been sober and of good behaviour since being released on bail.
She was in her early 20s when she met Quan, who was 33 at the time. She was unaware of his lengthy criminal past.
“Friends, family and now (the woman) herself describe the relationship as manipulative,” Daunt wrote.
Those who know her call it “abusive, or a ‘using’ relationship and noticed her downward spiral in her time with Mr. Quan,” Daunt continued.
While the woman doesn’t not believe Quan manipulated her into participating in the trafficking, Daunt was “satisfied an element of exploitation or manipulation contributed to her commission of this offence.”
Often, the person responsible for the crime will take the fall for the other person in a domestic relationship. That didn’t happen in this case.
While it doesn’t help the woman that others in her situation may have their charges dropped, “it does speak to the nature of the relationship,” Daunt wrote, adding that she’d seen cases before where dealers have taken advantage of vulnerable women.
She found that Quan kept “the good stuff”, in this case money, at his pace and the drugs at her place.
“Mr. Quan had the sophistication to prefer that large quantities of cocaine, were they to be discovered, would not be found in a residence with his name on the lease,” Daunt found. It’s unlikely that if she had refused to house Quan’s cocaine that it would have made any difference in his criminal behaviour, the judge continued.
The relationship lasted only four months, until their arrest.
Since being released on bail, the woman has stayed out of trouble, abstained from alcohol and drugs, taken courses, upgraded her employment skills and volunteered extensively. She supports herself without resorting to social assistance.
All the letters of support paint her as a positive contributor to the community.
Daunt found there would be no benefit to returning the woman to Prince Albert, both for health and personal reasons. It would put her at greater risk of coming into contact with COVID-19, Daunt found, and would also reintroduce her to the city where she was introduced to drugs.
While the city was bad for her, she poses no risk to the city, Daunt found.
“Given her limited involvement in the crime and low risk to re-offend, I find it is not “necessary” to separate (her) from society,” Daunt wrote.
“Although there is no direct victim to her crime, there is a societal victim. She needs some education so she can understand the social harms such activities cause. That, too, can be achieved in the community. She needs to learn skills regarding choosing romantic partners and resisting peer pressure, so something like this does not happen again.”
Daunt wrote that incarceration would not protect society, as it elevates the risk of future offending, especially for low-risk offenders.
“There is a maxim in the medical profession, ‘First, do no harm.’ During this global pandemic, we may consider importing that philosophy into the criminal justice system,” Daunt wrote.
While the woman may eventually apply to have her criminal record suspended, it will remain even after she completes her 18-month probation, Daunt said, saying she hopes the woman uses this experience to develop better judgement in the future.“Although it may appear lenient, this order, following the 18 months she has already been subject to court conditions, amounts to an effectual sentence of three years of curtailed liberty – no small price to pay for a four-month relationship with a drug dealer,” Daunt concluded.
“It is said that “good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.’”