Vernon judge reduces fentanyl dealer's jail term so he can get into treatment faster | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon judge reduces fentanyl dealer's jail term so he can get into treatment faster

Vernon Courthouse
September 12, 2018 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - A Vernon man who admitted to trafficking cocaine, heroin and fentanyl will get a chance to turn his life around at a treatment centre after slipping through the cracks since he was a child.

Robert Lee Tessier, 42, was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking in relation to two separate incidents in September and December of 2016, one in Polson Park and the other at a residence in Vernon. In both cases, undercover officers intercepted Tessier while he was engaged in trafficking drugs. In one of the cases, a plainclothes officer appearing as a regular citizen was simply leaving the park when he was accosted by Tessier. Tessier pulled up fast in his car then hit the brakes, ran over aggressively yelling: “Do you have a [expletive deleted] problem with my employees….” The officer arrested him on the spot for uttering threats and found a cache of drugs in the car. 

Tessier has been in custody since Dec. 14, 2016. He pleaded guilty to five counts of drug trafficking and was sentenced earlier this summer in Vernon Provincial Court.

Tessier’s troubled past comprised a large part of the sentence hearing, with Judge Jeremy Guild hearing details of a traumatic childhood. Not unlike many offenders caught up in the criminal justice system, Tessier’s upbringing was characterized by abuse, early exposure to drugs, and time in the foster care system.

His mother was 16 years old when he was born and his biological father was not around, Guild said. When he was five, an abusive and sexually abusive step-father entered the picture.

“His basic needs tended to be neglected,” Guild said in a July 4 judgement. “He also reports being sexually abused by his step-father’s brother.”

Tessier was apprehended by the Ministry of Social Services when he was seven years old.

“Mr. Tessier moved through numerous family placements, foster homes and adolescent treatment centres in British Columbia and Alberta, often running away from placements and living on the streets. He was, in effect, institutionalized as a youngster, residing in various facilities with programs designed to house, treat, maintain supervision and control of young people with significant psychiatric and behavioural difficulties, histories of abuse, addiction, mental health, emotional challenges, or as foster care for emotionally distressed children,” Guild said.

He became addicted to cocaine before the age of 15, and the family he lived with illegally grew marijuana, Guild said. Tessier helped with the crop and developed a lifestyle of daily drinking and marijuana use.

In his mid-teens, he moved to a family placement in a remote B.C. community and remained there until his early 20s.

Around age 28, he moved to the Vernon area. Since then, most of his time has been spent in jail except for several years beginning in the late 1990s when he fathered two sons. One of those sons, court heard, committed suicide at the age of 16. Tessier was out of jail at the time, living drug free and working in Alberta when he received news of his son’s death and subsequently relapsed.

Over the past two years in jail awaiting the conclusion of his legal matters, Tessier availed himself of numerous programs and earned praise from his correctional officer, Guild said. The officer said Tessier surrounded himself with the “more positive people in jail rather than those entrenched in a criminal lifestyle” and the changes he made were “incredible.”

Tessier requested suboxone to treat his addiction shortly after coming into custody and has since reduced the prescription so he is now no longer taking it.  His plans after being released from prison are to attend the North Wind Healing Centre, a 45-day, culturally based residential treatment program near Dawson Creen, and after that, to reside in the Round Lake Treatment Centre’s post-treatment recovery home in the North Okanagan.

Crown counsel Clarke Burnett argued for a substantial jail sentence, including five years on one count of trafficking a drug mixture containing fentanyl, three years for cocaine and methamphetamine, and six years for another count of trafficking a fentanyl-containing substance — all served concurrently, or at the same time. Burnett said the sentence should be increased because the second offence was committed while Tessier was on a promise to appear for the first.

But Guild said it wasn’t that simple.

“On September 9, it was a virtual certainty that Mr. Tessier would continue to consume illicit drugs, and likely sell them to support his addiction, if he was released without any terms to help him stop using drugs. That was a factor police had to consider in determining if he should be released [without any conditions or with conditions],” Guild said. “There could – and should — have been, as a term of his release, conditions to assist him in stopping his drug use. The police knew, or ought to have known, that he would need those conditions.”

Guild went on to list the inherent challenges faced by offenders with substance abuse issues.

“Long standing addicts are generally poor: they cannot work because of their addiction,” Guild said. “The drugs must be paid for, somehow. Almost inevitably, an addict will commit a crime to pay for the drugs, usually by selling themselves, selling drugs or stealing. That is part of the steady stream of case in provincial courts. It is not a real choice. It is inevitable.”

Guild found that Tessier’s exceptional circumstances — including his changed attitude, achievements in jail and plans for treatment — justified a reduction in new jail time. He sentenced Tessier to four years, but considering time served and his exceptional circumstances, lowered that to 165 days to allow him to enter the North Wind Healing Centre this year.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston  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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