Woman who trafficked cocaine in Yellowknife to be sentenced next month

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The lawyer of a Yellowknife woman convicted of trafficking cocaine says his client should be sentenced to time served after facing bail conditions that restricted her liberty, preventing her from pursuing addictions treatment outside of NWT.

A jury convicted Serenus Bryan, 52, on one count of trafficking cocaine following a trial in early November. She was acquitted of trafficking fentanyl.

Bryan was one of dozens arrested and charged in September 2016 as part of Project Green Manalishi, a sweeping RCMP probe into high-level drug trafficking in the territory and its capital that targeted two distinct operations, and their leaders, Todd Dube and Norman Hache.

Over a three-day trial, jurors heard dozens wiretapped conversations between Bryan and Dube, the bulk of which featured back-and-forths about cash, drugs and outstanding debts.

Bryan was never tied to any physical drugs by police.

Trafficked cocaine ‘socially’

Last month, following the jury’s verdict, Bryan’s lawyer Steven Smith and Crown prosecutor Duane Praught squared off to settle a fact not established by the jury’s verdict: what was Bryan’s level of involvement in the Dube-led network?

Justice Karan Shaner ruled Bryan trafficked the cocaine on a “social” level, not on a commercial scale – a contention made by Praught. The distinction significantly lowered the sentence Byran could face.

Sentencing judges typically grant offenders a credit of 1.5 days for every day spent in remand custody – when a prisoner is awaiting trial, sentencing, or resolution of their charge. The sum is then deducted from the total sentence imposed.

Bryan, who was released the day after her arrest in 2016, isn’t eligible for remand credit, but she’s been on bail with conditions since her release more than two years ago. Those conditions, which included a requirement for Bryan to stay inside her home between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., were overly onerous and restricted her liberty, argued Smith during sentencing submissions in NWT Supreme Court on Thursday.

Bryan was also barred from leaving the territory, a condition she said made her “miss out” on “many things.”

“It cost me so much in my life,” said Bryan, standing to address Justice Shaner. With no long term treatment facilities in the territory, Bryan said the condition to remain in NWT deprived her of a chance to overcome her addiction to cocaine and opiates.

A judge can, using their discretion, apply credit to time spent on bail with overly restrictive conditions. Factors including the length of time spent on bail, how strict the conditions were, and the effect on the offender’s liberty, are considered.

Bryan’s lawyer asked the court to consider a sentence of six months – before considerations of strict release conditions – followed by 12 to 18 months probation. With the amount of credit Smith is seeking, Bryan would effectively be sentenced to time served if Shaner accepts his recommendation, meaning she would have no time left to serve.

Praught, who argued no mitigating weight should be placed on Bryan’s bail conditions, called for eight months custody coupled with one-year probation.

Praught acknowledged certain mitigating factors related to the case, including Bryan’s deep drug addiction at the time of her arrest, but said there is no evidence to suggest her bail conditions were overly onerous.

In recommending an eight-month sentence, Praught said Bryan displayed a level of premeditation by deciding to traffic and sell cocaine – a highly addictive drug that has had devastating impacts on communities in the North.

‘Not a victimless crime’

“This was not a victimless crime,” said Praught, noting domestic abuse, child neglect and property crime are often associated with the consumption and trafficking of the drug.

Bryan has four convictions for drug trafficking dating back to 1999, when she received a 12-month sentence

Bryan told the court receiving long term treatment is her “first priority.” Bryan said she fell into addiction in her early twenties as the result of successive abusive relationships.

Leaving the court with “a lot to think about,” Shaner reserved her decision. She’s expected to sentence Bryan on Feb. 5.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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