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Lawyers at odds over sentencing for cocaine trafficker

Sentences ranging from house arrest to six years in prison on the table for Fabian Fraser Cuthbert
cocaine seized Cuthbert
An example of the cocaine police seized during an investigation linked to Fabian Cuthbert of Prince George.

A Prince George man is facing as little as house arrest to as much as six years in prison for bringing "wholesale amounts" of cocaine into the city.

That was the range defence and Crown counsels provided Thursday when a sentencing hearing began for Fabian Fraser Cuthbert, one of four people arrested in June 2016 during the culmination of a 14-month investigation that centred on an apartment Cuthbert owns in Chilliwack.

Police had gained enough evidence to "wire up" the home with covert audio and video recording devices and to intercept communications between Cuthbert, and co-accused Ravneet Singh Basi of Kamloops and Tijinder Sidhu, of Richmond. 

On the day of the arrests, Basi had picked up a kilogram from Sidhu and delivered it to the apartment. Shortly after driving away, he was arrested and during a subsequent search, RCMP found a black garbage bag containing $50,540 - the money Cuthbert paid for the cocaine - and another $1,500 in $20 bills on Basi - his share for making the delivery.

It also appeared those involved were aware of the surveillance. The exchange was made in the apartment's bathroom and away from the recording devices and the cocaine was later found hidden in the dryer, the court has been told.

While the specifics on how it was distributed once in Prince George were not known, police determined that Cuthbert brought in five kilograms of the drug in amounts ranging from one to two kilograms over four months leading up to his arrest.

In arguing for the term in prison, Crown counsel conceded that Cuthbert has no previous criminal record, did not make "excessive profit" from the venture and that the only aggravating factor was the seriousness of the offence, but argued it was enough to make denunciation and deterrence the primary consideration.

Conversely, Cuthbert's lawyer, Harold Alkema, argued for a conditional sentence order - effectively house arrest - of two years less a day plus a term of probation. 

In doing so, Alkema emphasized so-called "Gladue factors" related to Cuthbert's Metis heritage, difficult upbringing and the over-representation of Indigenous people in the correctional system. He cited cases in which people in similar circumstances were issued conditional sentence orders.

In anticipation of Alkema taking that position, Crown had contended the Gladue factors were "overborn" by the need to emphasize denunciation and deterrence.

It is also expected that Alkema will stress the efforts Cuthbert has taken to turn his life around when the hearing continues Friday.

At the time of his arrest, Cuthbert had turned to opioids as a way to deal with the pain he suffered from a series of motor vehicle accidents. The medication "changed his personality," the court was told.

Cuthbert had initially pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic and possession for the purpose of trafficking but was then granted leave to change the plea after getting a better understanding of the counts he was facing. However, in December 2021, he was found guilty. Crown is also seeking a concurrent term of four years on the possession count.

Cuthbert is also in danger of forfeiting as alleged proceeds of crime $28,000 in cash seized from his home in Prince George and half the value of the Chilliwack apartment, which carries an assessed value of $110,604,

In arguing for half, Crown cited a case with a similar outcome in which a couple lived in the top half of a home but in which there was a marijuana grow op in the basement. Likewise, Cuthbert's apartment was something of a home away from home, it was also used to package the cocaine for delivery to Prince George, the court was told.

Sidhu and Basi were both sentenced to three years in prison for their roles in the scheme. Charges against the fourth person arrested, Cuthbert's mother, Katherine, were later dropped.

The hearing for Cuthbert is being held before B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ron Tindale.