A woman in Inuvik who was sentenced to three years probation for her involvement in the drug trade will have to serve jail time after all.
On Tuesday three appeal court judges unanimously agreed that the three years probation Melinda Joe was sentenced to in December 2016 was not a fit sentence. They sentenced her to a year in jail on top of what remains of her probation.
Joe was arrested in December 2013 after police searched her home and found a half pound of marijuana, eight individually wrapped grams of crack cocaine and $5,280 in cash.
Now 39 years old, Joe initially pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing marijuana and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. She changed her pleas to guilty after failing to convince a judge that the search warrant police used violated her constitutional rights.
In court on Tuesday, the prosecutor argued the three years probation sends out the wrong message to people in Inuvik.
"Everyone sees Ms. Joe. They know what she went to court for and she didn't go down south [to jail]," said Crown prosecutor Blair MacPherson during the hearing.
"There's a real risk that won't be a deterrence in that community."
Even Joe's lawyer, Tracy Bock, agreed that the three years probation Joe was sentenced to was the wrong sentence.
In 2012 the federal government made changes to the Criminal Code that removed conditional sentences (also known as house arrest) as an option for judges when sentencing people involved in the trafficking of hard drugs, such as cocaine.
Probation is more lenient than a conditional sentence. Both Bock and MacPherson agreed that, in disallowing conditional sentences, federal lawmakers also disallowed probation.
Behaviour on probation 'lukewarm at best,' Crown says
A pre-sentence report presented during Joe's sentencing hearing 13 months ago detailed her difficult upbringing in a home environment where alcohol abuse and violence were not uncommon. Joe spent time in foster homes as a child.
Her lawyer said she was "essentially abandoned" by her husband and left to take care of her three children on her own.
On Tuesday, MacPherson told the three appeal court judges that people facing sentencing for dealing in hard drugs often have similarly difficult backgrounds.
"They're often impoverished, sometimes drug users themselves," said MacPherson. "But that doesn't give them a pass."
MacPherson described a report on how well Joe has done while on probation as "lukewarm at best."
According to the report, Joe has consumed marijuana and alcohol, though her probation order does not permit it. She has attended only three out of more than a dozen counselling appointments.
The report also indicates Joe has completed 60 hours of community service she was ordered to do, and paid a $400 victim of crimes surcharge.
Bock said Joe is happier and has a more stable life than she's had in a long time. He argued that sending her to jail now would put that in jeopardy. He said she's able to support herself and her children, which is an accomplishment "in a community like Inuvik where there is so much dysfunction and not a lot of jobs."
He urged the judges to sentence her to a year in jail, but excuse her from having to serve any jail time.
"It's not going to offend the public in Inuvik not to send her to jail," he said.
The appeal court judges said longtime northern judges have, many times, talked about the destructive effects cocaine has on northerners and their communities, leading to addiction, family break-ups, thefts, robberies and violence.
They said that, while Joe's background makes her less blameworthy for her crimes, one year of jail is a fit sentence. Joe will be eligible for release after serving two thirds of her sentence.