Homeless Kelowna woman finding help after being sentenced for fentanyl deal | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Homeless Kelowna woman finding help after being sentenced for fentanyl deal

October 08, 2019 - 3:00 PM

KELOWNA - A homeless Kelowna woman who sold a $20 bag of fentanyl to an undercover cop was sentenced last month to 50 days in prison, and it might be the best thing that's happened to her for a while.

Amber Sintihakis, 43, was found guilty in April of two counts of possessing fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking.

Sintihakis told the court during her sentencing hearing four months later that she thought she was just helping a fellow, “sick” addict out when she sold the two baggies of fentanyl — the first weighing 0.23 grams and the second, including the flap, weighing 0.35 grams.

The court, however, disagreed and she later conceded that she had made a sale.

The deal took place on Sept. 16, 2017, when Sgt. Greg Woodcox of the Kelowna RCMP observed two women in a back alley behind the Interior Savings Credit Union on Richter Street. He knew one of the women was Sintihakis and saw that both were shooting up.

Another officer approached the two women as they emerged from the alley and asked them if they knew where he could get a point of "down", meaning $20 worth of heroin.

Sintihakis said she did and asked the officer to follow her to a vacant parking lot, where she anted up a pink baggie with a crumbly brown and greyish powder.

The officer gave her $20 for it and Sintihakis and her companion took his number, explaining she would be around and available, presumably for further drug sales.

Sintihakis isn’t a high profile criminal, and her own circumstances became more clear through Gladue report, written before sentencing.

In the Sept. 18 decision published online today, Oct. 8, Sintihakis’s transformation from a functioning member of society to a street level dealer struggling with homelessness is laid out, alongside changes she’s made that could save her life.

“According to Ms. Sintihakis's self-written Gladue report, her childhood was full of dislocation, fragmentation, abuse, and neglect,” reads a decision written by Justice Len Marchand.

She had a distant relationship with her mother, and little relationship with her father until she was older. That allowed her to connect with her Métis family, culture, and heritage throughout her 20s.

While she got to a stuttered start, she managed to maintain, on paper anyway, a relatively normal life and even had six children along the way.

The father of her last five children, however, was “emotionally and psychologically abusive to Ms. Sintihakis,” Marchand wrote.

“During her marriage to Mr. Sintihakis, Sintihakis drifted away from her Métis heritage and culture, which I accept had been a stabilizing force during her 20s,” he said.

“I also accept that the willingness of an Indigenous person such as Ms. Sintihakis to turn away from her heritage and culture is not an uncommon consequence of Canada's historic treatment of its Indigenous people.”

Sintihakis drank, smoked pot and occasionally did cocaine, but it wasn’t until  2016 when the wheels really came off.

“I am not entirely sure of the sequence of events, but at some point, she suffered a head injury in a motor vehicle accident, which she feels impacted her cognition, memory, and physical abilities in a lasting way,”  Marchand wrote.

“Following her motor vehicle accident in 2016, Ms. Sintihakis was prescribed morphine for pain management. She soon became dependent, which led to an addiction to heroin and homelessness.”

On top of all her other struggles, at some point, Sintihakis contracted Hepatitis C.

She also ran afoul of the law a number of times. While her pre-2016 criminal record consisted of one cannabis production charge, since April 4, 2017, Ms. Sintihakis has 17 convictions, including two convictions for theft under, six convictions for possession of a scheduled substance, five convictions for failing to comply with an undertaking, one conviction for failing to comply with a probation order, and four convictions for possession for the purpose of trafficking, two of which happened after this incident and she's currently incarcerated for them.

It could be this lawless behaviour, however, that turned things around for Sintihakis.

Between her last offence on May 25, 2018, and the imposition of her most recent custodial sentence in June 2019, Sintihakis made significant progress in dealing with many of the hurdles she was facing.

She’s connected with BrainTrust Canada in Kelowna, where she receives counselling and support services, received addictions counselling at Kelowna Mental Health and Substance Use and completed relapse prevention offered at Kelowna Community Corrections.

Sintihakis was also prescribed Kadian (an extended-release morphine) to help with her pain symptoms and eliminate her cravings for illegal substances and attended the Opioid Agonist Treatment Clinic in Kelowna about once a week.

She received treatment for her Hep-C. She was seeing her children.

“Finally, in April 2019, she obtained stable housing which, of course, she has now lost, though I am advised that she has subsequently been approved for supportive housing in Kelowna on release,” Marchand wrote.

“While incarcerated at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, Ms. Sintihakis has made good use of her time. She has reconnected with her Métis roots, is attending Bible study and has taken training courses to enable her to transition to the community with employment skills on her release. She is attending AA and NA meetings. She is volunteering in the kitchen. She is also working towards getting off Kadian and onto Suboxone.”

Sintihakis has also secured a bed at Bridgeway in Kelowna, which offers a six-week program for alternating groups of 20 adult men or women seeking substance abuse treatment.

With this in mind, Marchand gave her a sentence that would allow for her to access treatment.

She was sentenced to 50 days' imprisonment on both counts to be served concurrently to each other and concurrently with the sentence she is already serving. Often, the courts have observed that dealing deadly fentanyl should attract lengthy jail sentences but Marchard declined that option given the circumstances. 

She will be on probation for three years with strict conditions and have to serve some community service.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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