Alcohol far more destructive than cocaine, says lawyer at trafficking sentencing hearing

Defence lawyer Peter Harte argued when courts discuss the evils of cocaine they should consider the harm caused by alcohol, a legal drug, during sentencing for a man convicted of possessing cocaine for the purposes of trafficking.

When discussing evils of cocaine, courts should consider harms caused by legal drugs, says Peter Harte

"The suggestion that cocaine is a horrible evil doesn't really tell the whole story without taking into account that it's really alcohol that puts people in criminal court," says defence lawyer Peter Harte. (Emily Blake/CBC)

At a sentencing hearing in Yellowknife yesterday, a defence lawyer said when the courts talk about the ravages cocaine can have on individuals and communities, they should also consider the far more destructive influence of a perfectly legal drug, alcohol.

"Ninety to ninety-five per cent of what we deal with in the N.W.T. in criminal court — and the same numbers apply to Nunavut — is related to alcohol," said Peter Harte.

"So the suggestion that cocaine is a horrible evil doesn't really tell the whole story without taking into account that it's really alcohol that puts people in criminal court."

Harte made that argument at the sentencing hearing of Travis King. King pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

After a traffic stop near Hay River two years ago, police found 112 grams hidden in his underwear. He also had just over $1,200 in cash.

The prosecutor is calling for the 21-year-old to be sentenced to three years in prison. Harte said 18 months of jail time plus probation is more appropriate.

Ninety to ninety-five per cent of what we deal with in the N.W.T. in criminal court... is related to alcohol.- Defence lawyer Peter Harte

Harte said the same logic applies to sentencing of people for drug crimes involving marijuana.

"In the course of 30 years of criminal practice, I've never dealt with a fight caused as a result of people smoking marijuana. I deal with alcohol related fights all the time... alcohol prompts huge amounts of violence in the North."

According to a pre-sentence report, King was neglected as a child due to his mother's alcohol abuse. After being apprehended by social services twice as a child, he ended up homeless on the streets of Yellowknife at the age of 14.

King is the brother of Denecho King, who is currently charged with murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. Another brother, Denezah King, was sentenced yesterday for mischief.

At Travis King's sentencing hearing, Harte also took issue with the suggestion that a harsh sentence was needed to deter others from selling cocaine. He pointed to studies that concluded there is no evidence that harsher sentences stop people from committing crimes.

The judge said she will announce King's sentence on June 18.