A Yellowknife man convicted of importing and trafficking a form of fentanyl is seeking release from jail over health concerns related to COVID-19.
Darcy Oake, 25, is currently incarcerated at Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC), the territory’s largest jail.
Justice Shannon Smallwood found him guilty after a trial last month of importing furanylfentanyl, a designer derivative of the powerful opioid, along with three other offences: possessing the drug for the purpose of trafficking, trafficking furanylfentanyl — a charge he pleaded guilty to — and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
Criminal negligence causing bodily harm is a charge rarely seen in drug cases.
In November 2016, Oake’s then-friend was hospitalized after consuming a dose of furanylfentanyl Oake gave her after ordering it online from Hong Kong over the “dark web."
He used Bitcoin to purchase the drug through a clandestine online shop that advertised a long list of illicit drugs.
On Tuesday, Oake’s lawyer Peter Harte asked Smallwood to release his client on bail.
The request is hinged on Harte’s contention that if Covid-19 makes its way into NSCC, Oake would be put at risk — he has asthma, and like other people with underlying health issues, he stands to be more susceptible to the novel coronavirus should it make its way into the facility.
Oake testified during the bail hearing.
He said physical distancing — something people across the globe have been encouraged, and ordered, to do — simply isn’t a reality in jail. Inmates can’t always be two metres apart from one another, and, on top of that, some prisoners aren’t following Covid-19 guidelines mandated by the jails’ top brass, he said.
NSCC warden John Nahanni also testified Tuesday, outlining the steps the facility has taken to protect both staff and inmates while confronting Covid-19 and its potential spread at the jail.
In a written application, Harte stated, "the presence of Covid-19 in the NWT poses a significant risk of death to individuals who are incarcerated."
Inmates applying for bail usually haven't been convicted of a crime, unlike Oake, but Harte, in his statement, said his client doesn't pose a threat to the public and his need to attend later court dates doesn't depend on his detention.
Harte is asking Smallwood to release Oake on strict conditions — house arrest under the eye of a surety, with orders not to possess or consume any drugs, including alcohol, along with a host of other stipulations.
Harte later told NNSL Media that the jail is taking some “incredible steps” to halt the spread of the virus. But the risks remains, especially for inmates like Oake, who have pre-existing medical issues, he said.
"All I want to do is get him to a safer accommodation," said Harte.
Some NWT inmates released during Covid-19 pandemic
The Department of Justice moved to grant temporary absences for some low-risk inmates with one month left to serve in NWT jails late last month.
Harte said he understands that four inmates have since been released from NSCC. Seven inmates in total across the territory - there are two other jails located in Fort Smith and Hay River - have been granted temporary absences, he said.
It’s unclear where the other three releases occurred.
NNSL Media asked the justice department for an update on the number and location of temporary releases on Monday, with no answer as of Wednesday.
Oake’s release bid is the latest in a string of several failed attempts to be freed on bail.
Following his arrest in November 2016, Oake sought bail in July 2018. He was denied.
Another bail application was shot down in December of the same year.
The denials were rooted in the fact the Oake was re-arrested after being granted bail shortly after his initial arrest. He was found with drugs and sent back to jail.
Following Oake’s conviction last month, Harte filed an application on his client’s behalf, asking for the charges to be stayed because too much time had passed between Oake’s charges and his trial. Inmates in Canada are afforded the right to speedy trials — long stays in jail without convictions could be deemed unconstitutional.
That application has since been dropped by the defence.
Smallwood is expected to make a decision on Oake’s bail Friday afternoon.
Oake is set to be sentenced at a later date.