British Columbia·In Depth

Fentanyl crisis results in tougher sentence for drug dealer

The dire nature of B.C.'s fentanyl crisis has led a Vancouver Island judge to give a tougher-than-usual sentence to a 23-year-old who sold the drug to support his heroin addiction.

Judge factored public emergency into decision to give addict-dealer a 1 year jail sentence

The dire nature of the fentanyl epidemic has factored into sentencing for a low-level trafficker caught in Campbell River. (Canadian Press)

The dire nature of B.C.'s fentanyl crisis has led a Vancouver Island judge to give a tougher-than-usual sentence to a 23-year-old who sold the drug to support his heroin addiction.

Tylor Michael James Derycke's case fits into a growing body of jurisprudence reflecting a question facing judges as an opioid epidemic kills at an alarming rate: does the presence of fentanyl warrant harsher sentencing?

Campbell River provincial court Judge Barbara Flewelling decided it does.

"Courts across the country have made references over the years to the 'scourge' of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine and the human cost and devastation that those drugs cause," Flewelling wrote in her decision.

"In determining where in the range of a fit sentence Mr. Derycke would fall, I am entitled to consider the dramatic rise in fentanyl-related overdose deaths and the public health emergency that has been declared in British Columbia and in other provinces."

Campbell River: 'This town makes money'

Flewelling gave Derycke a sentence of 12 months for possession of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Since it was his first drug offence, and Derycke has struggled with heroin addiction since the age of 14, his lawyer argued a sentence of six months would be more appropriate.

Beyond the legal issues, the details of the case also shine a light on the spread of fentanyl into smaller communities like Campbell River, where Derycke was caught and Grande Prairie, Alta. where he lives.

Police found a naloxone kit in the room where Tylor Michael James Derycke and his girlfriend were staying. (Stefan Labbe/ CBC)

He was arrested by RCMP on May 20, 2016 after a routine traffic violation. A police office saw him throw three plastic baggies out the window; they were later found to contain heroin, fentanyl and cocaine resin.

Police seized Derycke's phone, which was clearly part of a dial-a-dope operation. One of the callers asked if he could "spare a single of fentanyl for $20."

A search of the hotel room where Derycke was staying with his girlfriend turned up more drugs, along with a naloxone kit to be used in the event of an opioid overdose.

Derycke is described as a low-level dealer. He told police he was paid to come from Grande Prairie to Campbell River because "this town makes money."

"The drug business in Campbell River is apparently very lucrative," Flewelling wrote.

"Derycke told the police that he made $20,000 a week. He also described the drug trade as a growing market in which the drug addict needs bigger and more frequent 'hits.' As he said: 'All you got to do is get them to do it once ... they're sick for it. It's a f--king vicious f--king cycle."

Special consequences for fentanyl?

B.C.'s chief coroner recently announced that according to the latest figures available, there had been 488 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. from January to August 2016. 

By comparison, the number of overdose deaths for all of 2015 was 505.

The Crown is arguing for a stiffer sentence for trafficker Walter James McCormick, because he was dealing in fentanyl. (Crown exhibit)

The majority of overdose deaths in 2016 have involved fentanyl, often mixed with cocaine. The coroner says many of the dead may not have realized they were even taking fentanyl.

Last month, a federal Crown prosecutor called for "an incredibly high and harsh" 18-year jail sentence for Walter James McCormick, a high-level fentanyl trafficker caught in a Vancouver police investigation.

In making his case, Oren Bick argued that dealers like Walter James McCormick "bear personal significant responsibility for hundreds of fentanyl-detected deaths in British Columbia."

But other judges have resisted singling out fentanyl for special treatment in sentencing.

This summer, a Kelowna B.C. Supreme Court judge said the law doesn't see fentanyl differently to other Schedule 1 drugs like cocaine and heroin. Justice Hope Hyslop said it was up to legislators to draw distinctions.

Flewelling appears to have rejected that logic.

"While I accept that there is not a higher sentence prescribed by Parliament for selling fentanyl or drugs containing fentanyl, this court can consider the consequences of selling fentanyl or drugs containing fentanyl," she wrote.

"This is simply part of the contextualized assessment that a sentencing judge must embark on to determine a fit and appropriate sentence."

Flewelling said she also wasn't convinced Derycke was remorseful, despite his guilty plea. He was given credit of 189 days for time spent in custody since last spring.

He still has 176 days to serve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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