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Alleged fentanyl dealer in court

NNSL file photo Health Canada says there were more than 2,800 opioid-related deaths in 2016—five of which were in the NWT. Preliminary data shows there will be more than 3,000 by the end of 2017. This year's Addictions Week awareness campaign focused on opioids, coinciding with the rise of fentanyl in the territory.

A preliminary hearing for a Yellowknife man, charged with fentanyl trafficking-related offences, will resume in the new year.

Darcy Oake, 23, faces the rare charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm by providing fentanyl, as well as importing and trafficking the dangerous drug.

The preliminary hearing, which got underway earlier this week, is being held to determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to trial. The hearing is being heard in territorial court in front of Judge Bernadette Schmaltz. There is a publication ban on evidence heard during the hearing.

Oake was charged about a year ago after police raided a Borden Drive residence and found a $500 batch of the opioid furanyl fentanyl, a less potent form of fentanyl, that had allegedly been imported from China.

The seizure came at about the same time at least eight people were treated at Stanton Territorial Hosptial over a 48-hour period for opioid overdoses. At the time RCMP did not link the fentanyl seizure with the overdoses.

RCMP Sgt. Dean Riou and Dr. Jennifer Harris were the first to make the connection at a public meeting about fentanyl last January.

It has not been determined in court whether Oake is alleged to have sold fentanyl to any more of the people who overdosed.

A second package of furanyl fentanyl from China destined for Yellowknife was intercepted by the Canada Border Services Agency at the Vancouver International Mail Centre days after the eight overdoses, according to an RCMP news release from December 2016. That package was stopped when an official realized it was bound for the home on Borden Drive that police were searching in connection with the overdoses, said Riou.

Dressed in track pants and a hoodie, Oake did not testify at the hearing. It is expected that when the hearing resumes on Jan. 8, Oake's lawyer Charles Davision and Crown Prosecutor Duane Praught will make their final submissions to the judge. Praught admitted outside court yesterday that this is the first time he has ever prosecuted anyone on the charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm by providing fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a drug hundreds of times more powerful than heroin. There has been at least one fentanyl overdose death in the territory, according to NWT Chief Coroner Cathy Menard, but there have been thousands of fentanyl overdose deaths across the country over the past few years.