Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Providing fatal morphine dose is manslaughter: Crown

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CURTIS Haas may not have forced a young woman to take a batch of morphine pills. But Manitoba justice officials say that doesn't give him a free pass for her death.

Closing arguments began Thursday in a potentially precedent-setting trial.

Haas, 52, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter for the October 2007 death of 20-year-old Wendy Henry. She stopped breathing after taking morphine given to her by Haas. He gave a series of statements to police in which he claimed, "You buy drugs from a drug dealer and take them, that's your responsibility."

Crown attorney Anne Krahn told court it's not so simple.

"You can't just blame them because they took morphine pills you provided on an illegal basis," she said in her final argument Thursday. Henry and another woman who lived in the same apartment block as Haas both overdosed within 24 hours of each other. The other woman survived.

Haas originally told police Henry wanted the morphine from him to "get high." He later changed his story, claiming she needed it to deal with chronic pain. He also told a different version to a security guard in his building, claiming Henry had "gotten into" his stash.

"(Haas) wants you to believe he was just a helper, giving pain relief to people who needed it," said Krahn. "He tends to minimize, to downplay his accountability for what happened here."

Defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk is expected to make his arguments today.

The case is believed to be the first in Manitoba in which an overdose death resulted in charges against the person alleged to have provided the drug. Winnipeg police have said similar arrests and prosecutions could follow if the case results in a conviction.

Haas told police he was a recovering addict and accident-prone, with the scars from many injuries to prove it. He said he only took prescription medication, such as sleeping pills and Tylenol 3. Haas admitted to acquiring "street morphine" but wouldn't identify the source.

Haas told detectives he met Henry when she went in his apartment block to visit her mother. When Henry overdosed, Haas called 911 and performed CPR. A detective asked Haas if he felt morally responsible for Henry's death.

"I only meant to help her," he said. "I didn't mean for anything else to happen."

Henry lived with her father and two younger siblings, filling her days caring for her two-year-old daughter, working with disabled children for the Winnipeg School Division, and taking sign-language classes.

A 1993 Supreme Court ruling upheld a conviction against an Ontario man who injected a young woman with cocaine after a party. The victim, who asked to receive the drug, died of a heart attack. The Crown was able to prove what is known as "unlawful act" manslaughter, saying the drug injection was illegal and the dealer should have known it was liable to cause bodily harm.

In 2008, a Saskatchewan woman who overdosed on crystal meth sued the man who gave her the drug in what is believed to be the first legal victory of its kind in Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2013 B1

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