Judges re­ject the­ory that coke courier was a ‘dupe’

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A long-run­ning case, that cast a spot­light on the lure of mass drug smug­gling across the re­mote Saskatchewan-u. S. bor­der, has ended with the last of the of­fend­ers los­ing his ap­peal be­fore the prov­ince’s top court.In a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion re­leased this week, the Saskatchewan Court of Ap­peal up­held Ron­ald Charles Learn­ing ’s con­vic­tion for pos­ses­sion of co­caine for the pur­pose of traf­fick­ing.Learn­ing drew a nine-year prison sen­tence.When the ap­peal was heard in Novem­ber, Learn­ing’s lawyer ar­gued the case against his client, now 36, was largely cir­cum­stan­tial, and that he was po­ten­tially an “in­no­cent dupe” with no knowl­edge of the co­caine cargo.In re­ject­ing the ap­peal, the court noted, “Mr. Learn­ing ’s al­ter­na­tive the­ory is spec­u­la­tive at best.”Learn­ing, orig­i­nally from Golden, B.C., was one of six men ar­rested in Canada and the United States in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, dubbed Project Faril, that tar­geted one of Saskatchewan’s largest drug im­por­ta­tion schemes.Headed by a B.C. man named Brock Ernest Pal­frey (who was sen­tenced in 2012 to 18 years in prison), the drug-ship­pers-forhire moved roughly 1.3 tonnes of co­caine along an in­di­rect route from Cal­i­for­nia to B.C., be­tween Jan­uary 2010 and Oc­to­ber 2011.The cargo crossed into Canada at the Saskatchewan bor­der near Mon­tana, be­fore head­ing out to B.C.When the reg­u­lar courier was un­avail­able, Learn­ing be­came the sub­sti­tute driver on a sin­gle load of 30 ki­los of co­caine bricks, worth be­tween $1.2 mil­lion and $2.3 mil­lion.Work­ing with an in­side man, the RCMP sub­sti­tuted the real co­caine — but for about nine grams — for fake pow­der bricks be­fore it was picked up by Learn­ing at a meet­ing point near the bor­der south of Val Marie on Oct. 1, 2011. The bricks were packed into hid­den com­part­ments in a Wind­star van.At the same time, the courier gave the U.S. driver — the agent work­ing with po­lice — pack­ages of pills and $10,000 cash for de­liv­ery to the States.The van was un­der surveil­lance from Saskatchewan to Salmon Arm, B.C., where the lone oc­cu­pant, Learn­ing, was ar­rested. In April 2016 af­ter a trial, Regina provin­cial court Judge Mary­lynne Beaton found him guilty.In the ap­peal hear­ing, de­fence lawyer Matthew Sch­mel­ing had taken aim at the cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, ar­gu­ing the surveil­lance wasn’t con­sis­tent, and rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other driver who handed off the il­licit cargo to an un­wit­ting dupe — in this case, Learn­ing.Jus­tice Neal Cald­well, who wrote the court’s de­ci­sion, agreed there were gaps in the surveil­lance. But, “there was no ev­i­dence to sug­gest any­one else had driven the van or that the van might have been driven by more than one in­di­vid­ual,” he said.Agree­ing with Crown pros­e­cu­tor Wade Mcbride, the court found the ev­i­dence over­all sup­ported the judge’s in­fer­ences and the guilty verdict.The court also re­jected the de­fence’s ar­gu­ment that the cer­tifi­cate of drug anal­y­sis ought to have been tossed out on a le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity.The de­ci­sion was made unan­i­mous by jus­tices Peter Whit­more and Robert Leurer.

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