A Yellowknife man who ordered a form of fentanyl online in 2016, later giving the powerful drug to a woman who suffered a non-fatal overdose, should receive a nine-year sentence, a prosecutor argued Wednesday.
Darcy Oake, 25, was found guilty of importing, trafficking and possessing for the purpose of trafficking furanylfentanyl — a designer derivative of the potent opioid — in March following a judge-alone trial. In late October 2016, Oake, himself in the throes of addiction, used Bitcoin and encrypted computer software to buy powdered furanylfentanyl over the dark web, accessing a clandestine online market where a variety of drugs could be purchased at the click of a mouse.
On Nov. 23, 2016, almost a month later, two 10-gram shipments arrived at Oake’s Borden Drive community mailbox from Hong Kong. Half-an-hour later, he overdosed — collapsing on the street after consuming a small line of the mail-ordered opioid. That same day, Oake gave a former friend a line of furanylfentanyl in his garage. She overdosed, too. The female victim was hospitalized; rendered unconscious for 24 hours.
An investigation soon led police to Oake’s residence, where he was arrested. The property was carefully combed over by investigators in hazmat suits.
‘Risked the life of every person he gave that drug to’
Oake was found guilty of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, a conviction rarely seen in drug cases.
“Oake risked the life of every person he gave that drug to,” said Crown prosecutor Duane Praught, noting the drug’s potency, even in small doses.
Furanylfentanyl is estimated to be about five times less potent than fentanyl, but more powerful than heroin and morphine.
“Every person who came in contact with the package from China to Canada was put in danger. Someone else could have been seriously hurt. It’s still an extremely dangerous drug,” continued Praught, noting the testimony of a toxicologist at trial who said a 0.5 mg dose could be lethal.
At trial, Oake denied planning to profit from the furanylfentanyl once it reached the NWT capital.
He testified he was an addict hellbent on scoring cheap drugs online — not a dealer-in-the-making poised to pull in big profits by selling furanylfentanyl, as the Crown contended.
Praught said those views haven’t seemed to change post-conviction. He said Oake has yet to fully take responsibility for his actions. The financial motivation behind Oake’s ordering of the drug is also aggravating, said Praught. He pointed to text message exchanges between Oake and an individual known as “Big” who wanted to “buy all” of the furanylfentanyl.
“His intent was to sell the drug for resale. Oake wasn’t a simple street-level seller,” said Praught.
Oake’s lawyer Kate Oja balked at the Praught’s characterization of her client.
“It was an unsophisticated scheme,” she countered. “There’s no evidence Oake was involved in anything but low-level trafficking.”
In stressing the potential toll the drug could have had on the streets of Yellowknife, Praught noted that a gram of furanylfentanyl could potentially amount to 1,000 individual doses. Oja cautioned the court in putting too much weight in the amount of furanylfentanyl that Oake ordered. She said it remains unknown how much he was going to keep for himself and how much he planned to sell.
Addiction, not financial gain, was Oake’s main motivator in importing the drug, she said.
The court heard Oake had a “good childhood.” At the age of 12, around the time his parents split up, he began drinking and smoking marijuana. By 18, he’d dropped out of school and was using harder drugs such as cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy). He first tried fentanyl at 19 and used it regularly up until his incarceration, the court heard.
Oja said he’s participated in outpatient addiction programs and counselling. While in custody at North Slave Correctional Complex, he’s attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but those are now temporarily cancelled due to Covid-19.
His attempts to seek treatment through counselling show a “motivation to address his addiction,” said Oja. “There’s a prospect for rehabilitation,” noting Oake’s prior lack of a criminal record.
She admitted her client has shown “tempered” remorse.
For Oake’s unlawful importation conviction, Oja is asking the court to consider a five- to six-year sentence — “still extremely heavy” — with the remaining convictions served concurrently.
Nine years, Oja noted, is the sentence Yellowknife “kingpin” Todd Dube received for running a lucrative and sophisticated drug network that moved cocaine, fentanyl and other drugs throughout the city.
Oake’s level of involvement in drug trafficking was nowhere near Dube’s, said Oja.
Praught reminded the court that Dube entered an early guilty plea. Had he not, Praught said Dube would have faced a 12-year sentence. Oake pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking furanylfentanyl following a preliminary inquiry.
Incidents while in custody
While Oja acknowledged “encouraging” elements in Oake’s behaviour while in custody — he completed his high school education and participated in business and information technology programs — “discouraging” incidents have occurred as well.
In recent months, according to Praught, Oake stole Naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids, while in custody.
In another incident, Praught said that during a phone call at NSCC, Oake was overheard talking about fleeing if granted bail and changing his appearance.
Oake was released on bail in 2017, but re-arrested following a breach of conditions. He’s since been in custody for 1,037 days despite several release bids.
With credit for time served in pre-trial custody at one-and-a-half days, that amounts to about four years and three months. That means whatever sentence Oake receives, just over four years will likely be reduced from it.
Justice Shannon Smallwood is expected to hand down a decision on June 30.