Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ton Anh Nguyen and the war on drugs

Ton Anh Nguyen is 56, sickly, poor, a drug user and a criminal. In 2007, undercover Vancouver police officers approached him and asked if he had crack or cocaine for sale. Nguyen went to another man, got what might have been drugs, gave them to the undercover officer and was given $10.
Nguyen was charged with trafficking. He was convicted after a jury trial. The Crown asked for nine months in jail; his lawyer asked for a conditional sentence which would see him serve the term in the community.
Justice Ian Pitfield disagreed. The entire reasons for sentencing are worth a read, but I've pasted the highlights below. The comments on the failure of enforcement efforts and the option of legalization and regulation of narcotics are worth debate.

"This case, to my mind, reflects the futility and waste associated with the pursuit of low level street traffickers such as Mr. Nguyen. This is an individual who had no drug or anything he could represent as a drug on his person at the time he was first approached by police. He left to approach somebody on the street curb who he must have known and who possessed the substance or something that could be represented to be the substance. Nguyen had no cash, no drug paraphernalia, and nothing to indicate any connection with the drug trade on his person when he was actually arrested. Four or five officers were involved in the operation.
"The supply and sale of controlled substances continues unabated in the Downtown Eastside and will undoubtedly continue as long as there are illegal products for which there is a market, or for which, because of the substantial profit, suppliers will create a market if none exists. Costly law enforcement appears to have been totally ineffective at forestalling the trafficking of narcotics in the Downtown Eastside. One is left to wonder whether, as is sometimes and more frequently suggested, legalization and regulation of narcotics would provide a better means of control.
" I am not persuaded that Nguyen is going to benefit in any way, shape, or form from a custodial sentence in the range of 9 months as the Crown suggests. Nor, in his circumstances, is that term going to deter him in the future. He will gain little in the way of skills in the period of time he will actually be incarcerated. He is already a drain on the public purse. I am left to ponder whether there is anything that is going to assist this individual in terms of rehabilitation or anything that will encourage him to pursue a reasonable and responsible lifestyle in the future.
" I am likewise persuaded that the imposition of a conditional sentence order would be equally futile. I have no confidence whatsoever that Mr. Nguyen will be bound by the terms of a conditional sentence order. I fully expect that given his record in the past and his life circumstances, it is only a matter of time before he would be back before the court facing an allegation that he had breached a condition.
"Mr. Nguyen’s offence cannot be excused given the current state of the law, but it is a situation which, in my judgment, is well-suited to a suspended sentence. The purpose of suspending sentence is to let the accused know that no sentence has been passed and, in the event that he breaches any of the conditions that I am about to impose, he will be called back before the court likely to be sentenced to a period of incarceration, whether conditionally or otherwise remains to be seen."


Anonymous said...

Good for Judge Pitfield, and kudos to you Paul, for giving this decision some amplification.

Anonymous said...

If the war on "drugs" was actually being waged to protect society or any indivdual against harm then legislation would have passed long ago making breweries, distilleries, and importers of alcohol the primary targets. But that's not the case. So what is the point? I can only speculate, but amongst many other things that the sham does sustain is an enormous and expensive legal machine. Just think: criminal defense lawyers; judges and crown councils; the entire court system; police; the prisons; the maintenance and repair of all of the real estate and infrastructure that supports the above; etc. It's a lot of jobs, jobs, jobs, most of which are very highly paid situations. Those benefitting from it are not likely to let go of it without a fight.

The "war on drugs" is more like a war being fought to keep society in the dark with respect to its monumental hypocrisy, and to keep the six figure publicly funded wage and benefit packages flowing.

Raymond Graham

BC Mary said...

Quote from Raymond Graham:

The "war on drugs" is more like a war being fought to keep society in the dark with respect to its monumental hypocrisy, and to keep the six figure publicly funded wage and benefit packages flowing.

What you've said here describes almost perfectly my feeling about both government and opposition in British Columbia. They are comfortable and hopelessly self-centred ... while that other important tool to keep society informed -- the news media -- is simply paralyzed.

I'd sure like to hear some positive ideas for improvements.