An RCMP investigation disguised as a random traffic stop intercepted thousands of dollars worth of drugs destined for Yellowknife, leading to the arrest of Vitaline Lafferty and her daughter Marie Anne, a jury heard Wednesday.
Vitaline, 79, and co-accused Marie Anne, 58, of Ndilo, both face eight counts of drug trafficking-related charges after the two were stopped along Highway 3 near Fort Providence in 2016.
Const. Philip Unger, a Mountie formerly stationed in Yellowknife, was the first Crown witness to be called to the stand during day one of the Supreme Court trial.
He told the court that in January 2016, he was brought onto the RCMP’s Federal Investigation Unit (FIU) to help with a large-scale probe into high-level drug trafficking in the territory. As part of the operation, dubbed Project Green Manalishi, Mounties monitored and intercepted the communications of suspected drug traffickers.
By listening in on chatter, Unger said the unit learned of a planned drug and cash transaction that was to take place in northern Alberta, just south of the NWT border, on March 18, 2016. Two women, police learned, were supposed to meet the drug courier in a blue SUV.
The scheduled pickup – believed by police to be a resupply of drugs destined for consumption in the territory – involved now-convicted drug boss Todd Dube, testified Unger. Dube was sentenced to nine years in prison last October.
Project Green Manalishi zeroed into the sophisticated drug networks of Dube and rival kingpin Norman Hache.
Multiple officers, some travelling in unmarked vehicles, were deployed to intercept the transaction in what Unger called a “very fluid” situation. He said two teams of responding officers split up, heading north and south along Highway 3, which leads to the Alberta border.
Anticipating the blue SUV, Unger and other officers set up a traffic stop – meant to look like a random police checkstop – at kilometre 29 of the highway near Fort Providence.
Half an hour later, Unger said the target vehicle arrived at the stop.
Vitaline Lafferty, Unger said, was behind the wheel, while her daughter Marie Anne sat in the front passenger seat.
Unger said he searched the blue Ford Escape – registered to Vitaline – after the two were placed under arrest.
In an agreed statement of facts read in court, the search netted a huge haul of drugs. Police seized 1.7 kilograms of cocaine, 5.8 kilograms of marijuana, 11 bottles of liquid codeine and 85 grams of MDMA.
Unger said the drugs were found in a variety of bags located primarily in the vehicle’s back hatch.
Under cross examination from Marie Anne’s lawyer, Thomas Boyd, Unger said that an untied gym bag – containing two bags filled with 700 and 1,000 grams of cocaine each – was the only bag that could be looked into without being opened.
On Thursday, Const. Joe Miller, an RCMP officer who took a statement from Marie Anne on the night of the her arrest, testified.
A video of interview – nearly an hour and a half long – was played in court. The jury watched as Miller grilled Marie Anne, asking her repeatedly who instructed her to pick up the drugs.
After resisting Jones’ questioning, Marie Anne eventually admitted to participating in the pick up, but maintained she didn’t know “how serious,” the delivery was.
In exchange, Marie Anne said she expected $1,000 to go towards her mother’s unpaid power bill.
She maintained she wasn’t getting paid herself, and refused to identify who directed her to the drugs. Marie Anne said she didn’t want to a rat, and alluded to “consequences.”
“You know how scary the drug world is,” she said.
Marie Anne buried her face in her hands, appearing to weep, as the tape played.
In an opening statement made to the 12-member jury, prosecutor Duane Praught said the crux of the case will come down to one central question: “what did they know?”
Praught said the trial will revolve around the capacity in which the pair possessed the drugs.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there are three types of possession: personal, constructive and joint.
For someone to be convicted of the latter two offences, a number of factors, including knowledge, consent and control of drugs, must be established by the Crown.
Unger testified there were no signs of personal drug use, such as pipes or bongs, inside the vehicle.
On Monday, jury selection for the trial – which saw hundreds of residents pack into a city hotel – was stalled due to a Chipewyan interpreter – needed for Vitaline Lafferty – being unavailable. The hiccup, which cost taxpayers over $1,000 in booking fees, resulted in would-be jurors being called for selection again the next day.
The trial is set to resume Thursday with testimony from another officer involved the in March 2016 drug bust.