Vernon fentanyl trafficker once given light sentence for rehab, back behind bars - InfoNews

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Vernon fentanyl trafficker once given light sentence for rehab, back behind bars

Vernon Supreme Court
August 06, 2020 - 6:00 PM

A Vernon fentanyl dealer who was previously given a lighter jail sentence so he could get into drug treatment will once again do jail time for drug trafficking.

Robert Lee Tessier, 43, was sentenced to another 15 months' jail time after he was caught again in June 2019 with large quantities of fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine leaving a known Vernon drug house.

At the Vernon courthouse Aug. 4, Tessier pleaded guilty to one charge of trafficking, with the Crown agreeing to stay two other trafficking charges.

Crown and defence lawyers submitted a joint submission requesting a three-year sentence due to Tessier's "extremely mitigating" background.

"Normally the Crown would be seeking a higher sentence," Crown prosecutor Michelle Reinhart told the court, adding that four or five years would ordinarily be more appropriate.

"(Tessier has) been addicted to hard drugs since the age of 15," defence lawyer Julian van der Walle said. "He essentially has never been able to fully recover from (the) egregious childhood that he experienced."

The court heard how police had been investigating a suspected drug house in Vernon and stopped a vehicle that had left the property when it rolled through a stop sign. Tessier was in the vehicle, along with a bag containing 71.5 grams of fentanyl, 143 grams of cocaine, and 55 grams of methamphetamine. He also had almost $8,000 in cash on him and a metal pipe was found in the vehicle.

The court heard how Tessier had a long history of trafficking convictions and had spent the last 15 years of his life in and out of jail. 

In 2018, Judge Jeremy Guild reduced a jail sentence for trafficking so Tessier could attend treatment. Judge Guild also criticized the police for releasing Tessier following his arrest without conditions to help him stay off drugs when it was obvious his addiction would lead to him committing more crime.

The court did not hear about what happened to Tessier's earlier treatment plan, but it appears he was out of prison for about six months before being arrested on the current charges.

Like his 2018 court appearance, much of the time was spent addressing Tessier's childhood.

van der Walle described it as "atrocious" and "destructive." 

Born to a 16-year-old mother, and a father he has never met, Tessier was the victim of regular physical abuse and was sexually abused by his uncle.

"Ultimately he's taken away by social services at the age of seven, he bounces around from foster home to foster home before ending up with his aunt, whom he lived with for a few years," van der Walle said.

From there Tessier spent several years in group homes for at-risk youth, moved to Kamloops but got kicked out of school in Grade 9, and then moved to Lillooet to live with another aunt.

"And this is where things really went downhill for Mr. Tessier," van der Walle said.

Tessier began helping his aunt's partner in his illegal marijuana business and was exposed to the criminal lifestyle. He began drinking and smoking daily and he became addicted to crack cocaine at age 15.

van der Walle said Tessier had moved to Vernon around 18 years ago and had spent some time off drugs. He'd fathered two children, got a two-year millwright apprenticeship and worked in the Alberta oil patch. He was laid off in 2014 and soon after heard his 16-year-old son had committed suicide.

"When he finds out his son committed suicide he essentially relapses very, very badly... and starts selling drugs to maintain his addiction," van der Walle said. "(He's) been in and out of jail ever since."

"Given his atrocious background, I think it's surprising Mr. Tessier has come to the age of 43 without either committing suicide or dying from a drug overdose," the defence lawyer said.

While van der Walle said the "very lenient" sentence was based on his client's background, the defence lawyer also stated the case did involve a "very significant quid pro quo."

The defence lawyer alleged Tessier's Charter Rights had been violated during the "highly questionable roadside stop." van der Walle said he was confident Tessier would have had the case thrown out due to police actions.

"However my client chose to forgo his very strong Charter defence and plead guilty in exchange... for a more lenient sentence," he said.

"The offence itself is a very serious one with very grave circumstances to society," Justice Heather Holmes said in agreeing to the sentence.

"Your background is one that nobody should have to endure, but you did, I'm sorry for you that you've had that background and I simply hope you'll be able to make use of the resources available to you now to overcome your addiction and to get on track... and take up a more productive role in society, you're young enough to do that," Justice Holmes said.

With time served in custody Tessier will spend another 15 months in prison.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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