Sask. lawyer says manslaughter charges for overdose deaths will likely remain rare
Three accused drug dealers are the first in Saskatchewan history to be charged with manslaughter in connection to fatal overdoses.
On Monday, two of three co-accused made their second court appearance in relation to a string of deadly fentanyl overdoses on March 10, 2018.
According to Saskatoon police, four people died, within a matter of hours, and three others were brought back from the brink of death after taking cocaine tainted with fentanyl.
Late last week, authorities announced after an 11-month investigation the accused drug dealers had each been charged with four counts of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and three counts of negligence causing bodily harm.
Shervin Beeharry, 20, and Japmanjot Gerwal, 22 both appeared via video at Saskatoon provincial court on Monday. Both are scheduled to make another court appearance on Thursday.
They were both instructed by the judge to have no contact with each other or the third co-accused in this case, 20-year-old Azam Kabani, while on remand at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.
Kabani who was previously released on $7,500 bail was taken into custody in New Westminster, B.C., and brought back to Saskatoon. He is set to appear in court on Wednesday, for another bail hearing.
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All three were already facing drug-related charges stemming from the overdoses.
“There was contact between the dealers and the people who had purchased and they had illustrated that something is wrong with this cocaine,” revealed Staff Sgt. Vince Ashmeade, with the major crime section of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) on Friday.
“Deals were still made after that.”
Given that this is a Saskatchewan first, many wonder what the trio could face if there is enough evidence for this to proceed to trial and in the event, they’re found guilty.
“The maximum sentence under the criminal code for manslaughter is life,” Saskatoon criminal defence lawyer Meagan Bortis said.
“Although a life sentence for manslaughter is pretty rare.”
Bortis said, as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, manslaughter is any unlawful act where death is reasonably foreseeable.
“The unlawful act, in this case, would be dealing with the drugs to those individuals.”
Allegations that still need to be proven in court and while charges have been laid in this case, she said she doesn’t expect to see a floodgate of charges in connection to fatal overdoses.
“There are just inherent logistical difficulties that would be a part of each individual case that may block that charge,” Bortis said.
“That’s why I think it’s so rare.”
Last September, an Ontario man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after selling fentanyl to a person who thought they were buying cocaine.
He was originally charged with manslaughter but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of criminal negligence causing death.
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