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Man sentenced to five years for role in friend's fentanyl overdose death

An addict prepares heroin, placing a fentanyl test strip into the mixing container to check for contamination, Wednesday Aug. 22, 2018, in New York. If the strip registers a "pinkish" to red marker then the heroin is positive for contaminants. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

A 25-year-old man who sold his long-time friend drugs that caused a fatal overdose has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the death.

Justice Michael Harpur’s sentence specifies that Ryan Walker will not serve the full sentence due to a combination of time already served and his co-operation with another court case related to the death of Shawn Kelly.

But Harpur says Walker deserves a strict sentence in his friend’s death, siding with the prosecution’s request for a five-year sentence.

Kelly, 23, died of a fentanyl overdose at his home in Innisfil, Ont., in April 2017.

Walker, who court heard was a friend who shared Kelly’s struggles with substance abuse, was originally one of two people charged with manslaughter in the case but pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death and trafficking fentanyl last December.

On Tuesday, Harpur handed down concurrent five and three year sentences for the two charges, noting that while Walker will be free in just over a year, the penalty should send a message.

“Mr. Walker’s single-minded pursuit of a drug sale profit blinded him to the fact that he was furnishing to a friend a substance known by him to be potentially lethal,” Harpur wrote in his sentencing decision.

“All crimes demonstrate, at a minimum, indifference by the criminal to the consequences for the victim. When that indifference extends to the possibility of loss of life, its moral blameworthiness is extreme and the need for denunciation pronounced.”

Harpur said Kelly, who was married with two young sons, purchased drugs from Walker on the evening of April 9.

Kelly’s mother found him slumped over on his bed the next morning, dead of an overdose caused by a cocktail of four drugs including heroin and fentanyl.

Court heard that Walker, who had used opioids himself until six weeks before his friend’s death, has been diagnosed with adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Anti-social Personality Disorder while in custody.

Harpur wrote that Walker initially questioned the charges he faced, telling corrections officials that he had only sold the drugs to Kelly at his friend’s explicit request.

According to Harpur’s decision, however, Walker’s defence lawyer said his client’s decision to plead guilty indicates his willingness to take responsibility for Kelly’s death. The same applies to Walker’s willingness to co-operate in the ongoing case against the other man still facing a manslaughter charge in the matter, Harpur noted.

Despite that co-operation, Crown lawyers said Walker should serve a sentence of four to five years for the criminal negligence charge and up to 3.5 years on the count of trafficking. Walker’s defence lawyer countered that a two to three-year sentence would be enough to send a message of deterrence.

Harpur sided with the Crown lawyers, who raised concerns about the significant impact of fentanyl on the Ontario region that Walker called home.

The judge’s decision cited stats provided by a prosecutor, who said 73 per cent of Canada’s 3,996 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved fentanyl. The lawyer also told court that the communities in and around Barrie, Ont., and Orillia, Ont., registered “the greatest number of opioid abuse deaths,” but did not provide specific figures.

“The fact that this jurisdiction is in particular need of the discouragement of the sale of deadly opioids reinforces the need for a strongly denunciatory sentence,” Harpur wrote.

The judge shaved 1.5 years off Walker’s prison term for his co-operation in the ongoing court case and gave him credit for 28 months of pre-trial custody. Walker is due to complete his sentence next year. Harpur also ruled that Walker would be subject to a life-long weapons ban and be required to submit a DNA sample to the national databank.