Yellowknife mother wins long battle to get back seized vehicle

An N.W.T. judge has ordered authorities to return a Mercedes sport utility vehicle that was seized after a large drug bust in Yellowknife five years ago.

Crown claimed luxury sport utility vehicle after son convicted of cocaine trafficking

Longtime Yellowknife social activist Arlene Hache leaves court on Tuesday after representing herself and winning back a Mercedes sport utility vehicle the crown had attempted to seize as part of a drug bust five years ago. (Richard Gleeson CBC)

An N.W.T. judge has ordered authorities to return a Mercedes sport utility vehicle that was seized after a large drug bust in Yellowknife five years ago.

Justice Andrew Mahar made the order In Northwest Territories Supreme Court on Tuesday, dismissing the crown's argument that the owner of the Mercedes ML500, Norman Hache, transferred ownership to his mother after it was seized to avoid having to forfeit it.

In 2017, Hache was sentenced to five years in prison for heading up a drug trafficking ring that was, at its peak, selling 250 grams a day of crack and powdered cocaine in Yellowknife and communities in the South Slave region. Some of his drug dealing was conducted through a business known as Jerrie's Delivery Services.

The Mercedes was Hache's daily vehicle for the three months before he was arrested and charged. After taking into account time he had already served prior to being sentenced, he had three years left on his sentence. Hache was granted full parole in 2018 and is now living in British Columbia. He was listening in to Tuesday's court proceedings by phone.

"Do I get to say anything at any point?" he asked toward the end of the arguments.

"No, you don't," replied Mahar.

It was Hache's mother, local social activist Arlene Hache, who applied to the court to get the vehicle back. She said she agreed to arrange the purchase and financing of it on the understanding that her son would insure it and make the payments on it.

3 different invoices for vehicle

Arlene Hache said, despite their agreement, her son never made a single payment. She said she has been making the payments since getting a $35,573 loan to purchase the vehicle on Jan. 25, 2016. Hache said she has continued to make payments during the five years the vehicle has been impounded and just recently finished paying it off.

Prosecutor Duane Praught noted that ownership of the vehicle was transferred from Norman Hache to Arlene Hache 10 months after he was arrested and the vehicle was seized. Praught presented three invoices from Yk Motors for the vehicle, one showing Arlene Hache as the purchaser, one showing Norman Hache as the purchaser and one showing them both as purchasers.

Arlene Hache said after purchasing the vehicle she asked the dealership if they could provide paperwork that would allow her son to get the vehicle insured, because she was worried about being penalized if he was caught driving intoxicated or having to pay any parking tickets he accumulated.

Hache said she also partnered with her son in Jerrie's Delivery Services, each paying $5,000 to purchase the business. But Hache said she did so only to help him. She said she kept the books for the business, but did not have a hand in its day-to-day operations. The Haches sold the business to drug dealing rival Todd Dube in the months before Dube was charged.

Prosecutor Duane Praught suggested Arlene Hache had some knowledge that her son was using their business as a front for drug trafficking. 

Praught played recordings of three phone conversations between the mother and son that police made as part of their drug investigation. In one, Norman Hache tells his mother that he had heard that police broke down the door to Todd Dube's home and had arrested him and his sister, who was helping Dube with his drug dealing. Praught said it was noteworthy that Arlene Hache did not ask why police had raided Dube's place.

"I'm going to suggest you didn't ask anything about it because you know exactly why they were arrested," said Praught.

"You can suggest it," responded Arlene Hache. "I'm saying no."

Outside the courthouse, Arlene Hache said when she heard Dube and his sister had been arrested her immediate thought was that their new business was going to go "down the toilet."

"To be in the business that I was in for a long time, you have to be fairly non-judgmental," she said. (Hache ran a women's shelter in Yellowknife for many years.) "I wasn't totally non-judgmental, but I didn't know ... it could have been spousal assault, it could have been assault, it could have been a bunch of things."

In his decision, Justice Mahar said he found Arlene Hache to be "a credible and reliable witness," who has paid approximately $41,000 for a vehicle she has never possessed.

"We're talking about an expensive vehicle that was basically unpaid for at the time it was seized," said Mahar. He said to allow authorities to take it after Arlene Hache had paid for it, "would result in a grave injustice to Ms. Hache."