VERNON - Lawyers continue to spar in Vernon court over a fit sentence for a convicted drug dealer with a penchant for guns.
Ronald Charles Learning, 34, was arrested in January 2015 after police linked him to a 363 gram package of imported heroin. A search of his Vernon residence turned up several firearms as well as a stolen passport and birth certificate, various amounts of oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine, a baggie of marijuana, money transfers to Thailand, digital scales and bundled cash.
This past winter, Learning was convicted on 21 counts, including 15 firearms charges, three possession for the purpose of trafficking offences and two related to unlawful identity documents.
Sentencing submissions came to an abrupt halt in March when the defence took issue with the Crown’s arguments. Crown counsel Jeremy Guild said Learning was part of a drug syndicate at the mid-to-high distribution level. Defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen, at the time, pointed out Learning was never charged with importing or trafficking heroin and said the extent of his participation in the drug trade was not proven.
During a continuation of the sentence hearing today, July 4, in Vernon Supreme Court, Justice Gary Weatherill said he was satisfied on the evidence that Learning was the importer of the heroin and that he was engaged in the illicit drug trade at a mid-to-high level.
Learning is already facing a lengthy jail term of nearly nine years for a separate drug-related offence. He was convicted in Regina Provincial Court last year for his role as a cocaine courier in a massive cross border drug smuggling operation that was busted in 2011.
Arguments today, July 4, revolved around whether or not Justice Weatherill should impose a sentence concurrent, to run at the same time as Learning’s Saskatchewan jail term or consecutive, to be served after and in addition to his current sentence.
Guild is arguing for a sentence of seven-to-nine years on the Vernon charges.
If Weatherill were to accept that submission and order it served consecutively, Learning could be facing up to 18 years behind bars. Of that prospective sentence, Verdurmen said “harsh at best is an understatement.” He said Justice Weatherill should take the Saskatchewan ruling into account and reduce Learning's overall jail term to keep it fair and proportional to the offences.
The hearing is expected to continue today and tomorrow in Vernon court.
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