In February 2014, an unattended stove top brought Yellowknife firefighters to a downtown apartment unit. When they arrived, no one was inside. But thousands of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana were.
On Monday, four years and one mistrial later, a city man who pleaded guilty to possessing the drugs for the purpose of trafficking was sentenced in NWT Supreme Court.
William Simpson,56, was handed a three-year prison sentence by Justice Louise Charbonneau, who accepted a joint recommendation of two and a half to three years from both the Crown and Simpson’s defence.
It brought an end to what Charbonneau called a “very long” and “unusual,” case.
From May 2013 to March 2014, the court heard, a man named Richard Shushack was the leaseholder of a two bedroom apartment located on 48 Street in downtown Yellowknife. Shushack’s job required him to leave his residence for several days at a time, and between Feb. 18 and Feb. 25, 2014, he was not at home.
Shushack agreed to rent the second room in his apartment before he departed. The renter, who was not named in court or in court files, used the room to stash and package large quantities of drugs, according to an agreed statement of facts read Monday.
Simpson was an acquaintance of both Shushack and the renter. The defendant knew the unnamed man was using the apartment space to store drugs and that he did so for the purpose of trafficking, but he didn’t know the “extent of the operation.”
On Feb. 25, Yellowknife Fire Division responded to a smoke alarm at Shushack’s apartment. Personnel quickly quelled a smoldering pot left on a hot stove before searching the apartment for residents that could still be inside. One bedroom was locked. The building’s owner arrived and tried to open it with a master key, but the lock had been changed.
The door was forced open. YKFD personnel immediately smelled an odour of marijuana, and saw drug paraphernalia in the room. Members opened a closet, finding more paraphernalia and several large bags.
RCMP were called and a search warrant was executed. Police seized 25, 321.8 grams of marijuana and 1,110.2 grams of cocaine from the locked bedroom.
The resale value of the seized marijuana, Crown prosecutor Annie Piche said, was over $506,000, while the cocaine, at a resale value, was worth just under $200,000.
“Very large quantities of drugs.There’s no doubt about that.” said Piche.
Just hours before the huge haul of drugs was discovered, Northland Utilities had cut power to Shushack’s apartment due to unpaid bills. Not long after the power was disconnected, Simpson showed up at Northland Utilities on Range Lake Road. He mentioned he was house sitting for his “buddy,” and paid $800 in cash to have the power restored.
By 1 p.m., the power had been reconnected. An hour later, YKFD personnel were calling RCMP from inside Shushack’s apartment.
In March 2014, Shushack was arrested for possessing marijuana and cocaine for the purpose trafficking. Extracted data from Shushack’s cell phone and laptop revealed communications between him and Simpson. They suggested Simpson gave money to Shushack for his rent, and that Simpson had access to his apartment.
Simpson wasn’t charged until January 2015, nearly a year after the drug bust, when police identified his fingerprints on a bag containing 632 grams of cocaine kept in the closet of the locked bedroom.
In November 2017, Simpson and co-accused Shushack both headed to trial. But after seven days, a mistrial was declared due to issues with late disclosure.
A second trial was then set for the pair of accused, but Simpson changed his plea to guilty. As a result, charges against Shushack were stayed by the Crown.
Despite having five drug trafficking convictions – the fifth being entered 20 years ago – in what Piche called a “significant” but dated criminal record, the prosecutor said Simpson’s guilty plea was should be taken into account.
A 2016 Supreme Court decision on R. vs. Jordan led to new guidelines for what constitutes a “reasonable” time for an accused to be tried after being charged.
Due to the delay, Simpson had the opportunity to assert his charter rights under “Jordan”, but opted to forgo that route. Piche called the decision “significantly mitigating.”
Charbonneau agreed. And in an effort to finally close the “long, convoluted, procedural history,” of the case, she took the unusual step in handing down a sentence immediately after hearing submissions.
Charbonneau said the joint-submission was “definitely” on the lenient side given the wholesale amount of drugs seized, but said the recommended sentence wasn’t unreasonable.
Charbonneau took time to lament the ills of drug trafficking Yellowknife and throughout the territory.
She said the effects of drugs “manifest in different ways.” The courts often hear, Charbonneau said, of reputable community members getting caught up in the world of drugs.
Speaking to Simpson, Charbonneau said she wasn’t sure how he got himself into this after going for so long living crime free.
“Drug trafficking causes a lot of harm and that can’t ever be forgotten,” she said.
Standing to address Charbonneau, Simpson apologized, but also appeared to worry about “food being taken off the table,” if he couldn’t hunt as a result of his sentence. The Crown sought a firearms prohibition.
“I’m not a violent person – never have been,” he said.
But Simpson, nonetheless, received a 10-year firearms ban, and must submit a DNA order.
Simpson shook the hands of two supporters before being taken into custody.