Overdoses linked to fentanyl is a growing problem in B.C. (File photo)

B.C. judge calls for harsher sentences for fentanyl dealers

Top court says longer sentences would reflect the current “public health crisis”

A judge at B.C.’s top court is calling for stronger sentences for those who sell fentanyl.

In a ruling posted online Friday, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal to increase the six-month sentence of a 59-year-old man who was caught with drugs, including 2.6 grams of the deadly opioid.

The Crown had argued that the sentence wasn’t enough, given the “inherent danger” of accidental overdose linked to fentanyl.

READ: Fentanyl: A mother’s pain, a mother’s message

The effort was denied, since fentanyl-related deaths were not as prevalent at the time of the offence. But the three judges agreed the court should identify a higher sentencing range because of the current “public health crisis associated with illicit fentanyl consumption.”

The judge who dissented in the judgment, Justice Mary Newbury, called for a sentence of 18 to 36 months or possibly higher.

Frank Stanley Smith, a first-time offender, tried to sell drugs to an undercover police officer in 2015 on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The current sentencing range for first-time offenders is six to 12 months – the same as heroin.

The fentanyl crisis has led to a sharp increase in overdoses in B.C. There were 922 overdose deaths in the province last year, compared to 510 in 2015. An additional 116 people died in January.

READ: 2016 had almost double the number of overdose deaths as 2015

Ottawa announced an additional $10 million for B.C.’s fight last month, along with $65 million nationwide over the next five years to prevent overdoses. Exactly how that funding is going to be doled out has yet to be determined, but the B.C. government says it will help support the work of its Joint Task Force on Overdose Response.

READ: Ottawa gives $10 million for B.C. opioid crisis

B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, has said she believes fentanyl is to blame for most the increase in overdose deaths, since the number of deaths with no fentanyl detected has remained stable since 2011.

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