British Columbia

Fentanyl dealer's lawyer says 'horrendous sentence' won't solve crisis

The lawyer for an admitted fentanyl trafficker told a sentencing judge Tuesday that making an example out of his client won't solve an opioid crisis which is killing Canadians at an unprecedent rate.

Walter James McCormick will have to wait until the new year to learn if his sentence sets precedent

Fentanyl trafficker Walter James McCormick is shown during police surveillance that led to his arrest. (Crown exhibit)

The lawyer for an admitted fentanyl trafficker told a provincial court judge Tuesday that making an example out of his client won't solve the opioid crisis.

Walter James McCormick could be facing a prison term of up to 18 years, if the Crown has its way.

Speaking at the 53-year-old's sentencing hearing, defence lawyer Lawrence Myers said a term half that long would be more appropriate.

Myers said his client knows he's going to jail for trafficking in a drug which is killing Canadians at an unprecedented rate.

But he asked judge Bonnie Craig what giving McCormick a "horrendous sentence" would accomplish.

"I respectfully suggest that this notion that this problem we all embrace as a community is going to somehow evaporate as a result of the sentence the prosecution is suggesting is illusory," Myers said.

"The suggestion is that giving people severe sentences is going to solve the problem. That simply isn't the case."

'A supply and demand issue, to be sure'

McCormick will be sentenced early next year for trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking fentanyl at what the Crown calls a high level.

He was caught after a massive probe sparked by a rash of overdoses in 2014.

An artist's sketch shows Walter James McCormick standing before Provincial Court Judge Bonnie Craig. (Jane Wolsak)

He also admitted to possession for the purpose of trafficking in a separate incident which occurred when he was caught while on bail with large quantities of drugs — including fentanyl.

The Crown is seeking to make an example out of McCormick, a man who appears to have balanced a career in ironwork with a lifelong passion for dealing drugs.

He was previously given a 10-year sentence for trafficking cocaine in the United States.

Crown lawyer Oren Bick has argued that high-level fentanyl dealers like McCormick bear "personal responsibility" for a public health crisis which has swept B.C. and other provinces.

He tried to convince Craig that she has the ability to give McCormick a sentence higher than he might receive for trafficking in another drug.

"The nature of the drug makes the fact that it was fentanyl more aggravating than if it were the equivalent amount of cocaine," he said.

"It's a supply and demand issue to be sure, but in my submission, the fentanyl boom is driven by the supply side."

'She had nothing to do with it'

Dressed in a red pretrial sweat suit, McCormick watched from behind glass as the lawyers debated his fate.

Sentencing proceedings began last August after he entered his plea and the Crown dropped all charges against McCormick's former common-law spouse, Karen Marie Armitstead.

This photograph of money seized from Walter James McCormick's home was entered into evidence at his sentencing for fentanyl trafficking. (Crown exhibit)

Asked if he wanted to say anything Tuesday, McCormick stood to say only "Karen didn't have anything to do with it. She had nothing to do with it."

The Crown is calling for 10 years for the initial charges and eight for the charges McCormick racked up while on bail. Bick wants the terms served consecutively.

Myers said the total sentence should be between eight and nine years.

But the judge appeared to question his purpose in saying lengthy sentences do little to solve underlying drug and crime problems. She said the law requires her to consider denunciation and deterrence in sentencing.

"What am I to do with that?" Craig asked. "I have to follow the law."

"I'm not trying to encourage you to disregard it," Myers replied.

He called instead for a "tempered and measured approach."

The one thing all parties seemed to agree on was the need for a conclusion to a sentencing process that has already dragged on through two different courtrooms and more than half a year.