British Columbia

Bail-skipping B.C. fentanyl dealer seeks 'exceptional parole' because of asthma

A B.C. fentanyl trafficker with a history of ignoring court orders is seeking “exceptional parole” because of COVID-19, despite the fact he’s only one year into an eight-year sentence.

Federal judge sets three-week deadline for judicial review of Leslie John McCulloch's application

Leslie John McCulloch is serving an eight-year sentence for possession for the purpose of trafficking fentanyl. He claims he is at risk of dying from COVID-19 because he has asthma. (Leslie John McCulloch/Facebook)

A B.C. fentanyl trafficker with a history of ignoring court orders is seeking "exceptional parole" because of COVID-19, despite the fact he's only one year into an eight-year sentence.

Leslie John McCulloch has accused Canada's attorney general of acting too slowly to hear his application — resorting to Federal Court, where a judge last week ordered an expedited hearing for the Kelowna man's claims.

McCulloch was sentenced in January 2019 — at a proceeding he missed because he skipped bail — for running a clandestine drug lab.

The Matsqui Institution inmate says he has asthma and is worried about dying if he contracts COVID-19 while the Department of Justice drags its heels.

So he filed an application for a judicial review of the delay in Federal Court. The government wanted no less than 50 days to prepare its arguments.

But in a decision released last week, Justice Sebastien Grammond said he saw no reason why the Federal Court hearing couldn't happen quicker.

"There is no dispute that the matter is urgent," Grammond wrote.

"It is not, however, as complex as the attorney general suggests and I am convinced that the timetable set in this order is fair to both parties."

'Middleman' for the Hells Angels

McCulloch — a former "middleman" for the Hells Angels, according to court documents — was on parole from a four-and-a-half year sentence for possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine at the time he was busted in the case that resulted in his current predicament.

Kelowna RCMP seized two industrial pill presses and hundreds of fake OxyContin and Percocet pills made out of fentanyl when they raided his property in March 2016.

Kelowna RCMP seized two pill presses believed to be used for making fentanyl tablets. (Calgary Police Service)

He was accused of importing fentanyl from China to manufacture the pills.

McCulloch's bail was revoked after the raids and he was sent back to finish his sentence only to be granted release on $15,000 bail in February 2017.

He was sentenced to eight and a half years for running a clandestine lab in January 2019. But McCulloch failed to show. He was arrested three months later.

According to news reports of his sentencing for skipping bail, McCulloch taunted authorities while he was on the run, sending emails to say he wouldn't turn himself in unless the prosecutor softened his sentencing position.

'May be fatal'

According to the Correctional Service of Canada, there are no cases of COVID-19 at Matsqui, though four people have been tested. But there have been 120 positive tests at nearby Mission Institution.

McCulloch applied for exceptional parole at the beginning of April. 

According to the Federal Court decision, his application was buttressed by a note from his doctor, confirming that he suffers from asthma and that COVID-19 "may be fatal in people with pre-existing lung conditions."

The parole board acknowledged his application in a letter, but with no parole hearing scheduled, McCulloch applied to Federal Court for a judicial review to decide if the delay was unreasonable.

Lawyers for the attorney general claimed they needed time to assemble their arguments and that COVID-19 has impacted operations of the B.C. regional office of the Department of Justice because staff are working from home.

But Grammond said an expedited hearing was necessary.

"Given what we know about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on persons with pre-existing medical conditions, I am of the view that Mr. McCulloch has a legitimate interest in having this application heard within the time frame he proposes," Grammond wrote.

"In other words, this is an urgent matter."

The judge also said the case wasn't "unduly complex."

He said there was no doubt the threat of the coronavirus has changed the way people work, but that the Federal Court had cancelled all the non-urgent hearings that might normally occupy the Department of Justice's time.

"Thus, one would expect that the Department of Justice still has the capacity to prosecute a relative small number of urgent cases despite the COVID-19 restrictions," he wrote.

The judge has given all parties until May 19 to file their records.

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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