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This article was published 8/4/2019 (1181 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A former representative for prisoners at Stony Mountain Institution has been sentenced to 10.5 years for selling one of the most toxic opioids within prison walls.
Christopher Thomas Hastings, 32, was convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking about 3.7 grams of powdered carfentanil after guards searched his cell on April 18, 2017. Investigators found he was taking advantage of his position as chairman of a prisoners' liaison committee at Stony Mountain and his status in a gang to run a drug-dealing business and illegal store within the prison.
Carfentanil is an opioid used for tranquilizing large animals. It is 4,000 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, but Hastings was addicted to heroin and thought he was selling that drug, court heard.
As she imposed the sentence Monday, provincial court Judge Wanda Garreck noted the danger of deadly overdoses was the same regardless of whether Hastings knew what he was selling.
"There was no way of knowing if any of the overdoses occurring in Stony Mountain were the result of the drug carfentanil or if it was the result of the carfentanil Mr. Hastings was trafficking, but it was known that carfentanil and fentanyl was making its way through the institution," Garreck said.
Hastings asked guards to take him to the hospital after he ingested some of the carfentanil, saying it was stronger than the heroin he was used to, court heard. The judge ruled there was not enough proof he knew the powder was carfentanil.
"I will say these facts make me very suspicious that Mr. Hastings knew he was dealing in carfentanil; however, I do not find the Crown has satisfied the onus of proof that he actually knew it was carfentanil as opposed to some illegal drug stronger than his usual heroin," Garreck said.
"It makes very little difference to the sentence in this case," she added.
Hastings could have been making thousands of dollars selling drugs at Stony while he was serving a six-year sentence for robbery. Along with seized drugs, which were valued at $3,700 within the prison, investigators seized a debt collection list on which Hastings had noted he was owed a total of $1,800 from seven people.
"In this case, there is no evidence as to who brought in the supply," Garreck said.
Hastings also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for making phone calls after he was charged in attempts to get other inmates to admit they gave him the carfentanil. He was sentenced to 10 years for the trafficking charge, six months for obstruction of justice and a concurrent six months for drug possession. Before being sentenced Monday, Hastings had been held in administrative segregation for months at Headingley Correctional Centre because of construction within the provincial jail. He was credited for 27 months' time in custody.
No data was immediately available from the Correctional Service of Canada Monday about the number of drug overdoses that have happened within Stony Mountain or the presence of potent opioids there.
James Bloomfield, prairie regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers and a correctional officer at Stony Mountain, said small amounts of carfentanil and fentanyl have been found at Stony Mountain in recent years. Drug overdoses within the prison happen on a "regular basis," putting staff and inmates at risk, he said.
"The officers who are on the front line dealing with this are under the most pressure I've seen in the last 20 years, for sure, that I've been in the service," he said.
Trying to stop the spread of drugs inside the prison, being called upon to deal with overdoses and trying to protect themselves from accidental exposure to toxic substances is "so taxing on every single staff member in that building," Bloomfield said, and leads to increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The reality is, it comes in (via) anything from drones to baby diapers, so it's very, very difficult to try to stop it all," he said of drugs inside the prison.
Correctional officers at Stony Mountain now have access to naloxone kits to respond to opioid overdoses, but Bloomfield said they still lack adequate protective gear to keep them from being exposed to prisoners' bodily fluids and contraband drugs. Carfentanil can be accidentally ingested when it's absorbed through the skin or inhaled in the air. Bloomfield said the union would like to see medical care available within the prison 24 hours a day.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.