THOMPSON-OKANAGAN – Edmonton Police just announced manslaughter charges against an alleged drug dealer after one of his customers overdosed on fentanyl - making him the first dealer charged with manslaughter for essentially mis-representing a deadly drug as something less potent.
Now a Kelowna mom is asking the same question many have been asking lately: Why aren't more dealers being charged with manslaughter if they know fentanyl is lethal?
"The moms I've spoken to are compassionate because the dealer is most likely an addict as well and may not know what he is selling," Helen Jennens says. "The suppliers are the ones who should be charged with murder because they're saying it's something it's not."
When Jennens found out that police knew exactly who sold her son the lethal dose of fentanyl disguised as heroin earlier this year, she assumed they’d be arrested and maybe even charged with murder, but one year later neither has happened.
Tyler overdosed on Jan. 14, 2016 at his home in Kelowna. The day after, Jennens says she used his phone to call everyone he talked to that day to try and find out as much as she could. She says she learned both the street name of the dealer, the name of his crew and that they knew the heroin they were selling was in fact pure fentanyl.
When she passed the info to police they told her they know who he was, that he was part of a group known as “the kids” and that they were able to recover phone numbers and conversations from Tyler’s phone.
“They (RCMP) never led me to believe they were even looking for enough info to link it together,” she says. “They told me it was buyer beware and I went ballistic. You say that about used trucks not people.”
Jennens says to her knowledge the dealer has not been arrested or charged in relation to her son’s death and that likely won’t happen.
“They have a lot of information. Its’ like they want to see the actual exchange before they will link the dealer to the death,” she says. “That just doesn’t happen, these guys are smarter than that.”
The most recent numbers from B.C. Coroners Service shows drug overdose deaths are becoming more common across the Thompson-Okanagan.
Overdose deaths in Kamloops have more than tripled compared to this time last year and things aren’t any better in Kelowna. There have already been 31 deaths from overdose this year compared to 20 for all of 2015.
The majority of these deaths have been attributed to fentanyl.
The B.C. Coroners Service says in a release that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, 555 people died from drug overdose in B.C. compared to 508 in 2015.
"Fentanyl remains a major contributor to the high number of deaths," the release says.
Of those 555, fentanyl was detected in 302 cases, more than triple the number of fentanyl-detected deaths for the same period last year.
Helen Jennens' son was in the process of getting help with his heroin addiction when he died.
“When you read Tyler’s texts (heroin is) what he thought he bought,” she says. “He bought two points (doses) and he died after the first point.”
A point is roughly $40 worth of heroin.
For Tyler it was lethal and even the coroner report concludes he “was unaware of the presence of fentanyl.”
The difference between the Alberta case and others is tough to explain and may not succeed in court.
It may be worth noting that in Alberta, charges are laid directly by police however in B.C., police only investigate and recommend charges. Crown lawyers assess those recommendations and won't approve charges unless it's in the public interest and there's a 'substantial likelihood of conviction based on law and evidence.
Crown spokesperson Dan McLaughlin says to his knowledge they have never asked for a charge of manslaughter in the case of overdose.
“We don’t necessarily have any policies in place that would preclude (a charge of manslaughter),” he says. “We deal with specific reports from police and we assess the reports. There would be a charge if it met our charge assessment standard.”
McLaughlin says like law enforcement, the fentanyl threat is new to them as well but won’t speculate on the likelihood of a manslaughter charge being brought against a dealer in B.C. in the near future.
“I can’t talk about matters that are not before us or speculate why they’re not before us,” he says. “We are more comfortable dealing with concrete facts.”
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