Judge jails fentanyl dealer in landmark case
Carolyn de Wit’s life ended in a bathroom stall, just minutes after the server had bought “a notorious killer” drug behind the Norwich restaurant where she worked.
Her cousin’s husband, William Knapp, 36, had sold her a single 50-microgram patch of the powerful painkiller, fentanyl, from his own prescription he had for his chronic pain disease.
That happened more than two years ago, when Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney said Monday not as much was known about what he described as “without a doubt the most dangerous drug on our streets today.”
Had Knapp sold de Wit, 32, the fentanyl in 2018, the judge said he would have sent Knapp to prison for much longer than the 2½-year sentence he was dealt Monday. With time served, he has 777 days — two years, one month and 16 days — left to serve in prison. Heeney said at the sentencing of Knapp, who pleaded guilty in February to criminal negligence causing death and drug trafficking, that he would have questioned the joint proposal from the Crown and the defence as not harsh enough to deter “those who traffic” in fentanyl. In a case of many firsts, Heeney made the remarkable comment that his decision to accept the sentencing recommendation shouldn’t be considered a starting point for sentences in fentanyl trafficking going forward. Knapp’s case is among the first in Ontario to convict a fentanyl dealer for criminal negligence causing death. The judge said it should send a message that fentanyl dealers will be dealt with harshly. An opioid drug far more powerful than morphine, fentanyl has been implicated in growing numbers of overdose deaths in Canada, including in Southwestern Ontario. The drug has moved west to east in Canada, its toll rising as it moves. Knapp, who walked into court with a cane, sat quietly at the defence table throughout the hearing.
“I’m very sorry for everything that happened,” he said in a low voice when given the chance to address the court, including de Wit’s husband and family. Knapp, his defence lawyer Nick Cake told Heeney, suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a chronic, hereditary nerve disease that causes the pain receptors in his legs, feet and hands to constantly flare up.
He was a foster kid who attended 21 schools before quitting in Grade 10 to work.
His medical condition led him to every painkiller on the spectrum — percocet, morphine, oxycodone — before he was prescribed fentanyl in October 2015.
By then, he’d developed a tolerance to the previous prescriptions. He’d been put in a methadone program to get off oxycodone before fentanyl came into his life. Knapp also found out he could sell his painkilling patches for a profit.
Federal drug prosecutor Mike Smith called what’s happened with fentanyl an “epidemic” of overdoses and death that’s destroying communities.
“He needs to spend time in a federal penitentiary,” Smith said of Knapp, “who knows the dangers of fentanyl more than anyone in the room.”
Assistant Crown attorney Nancy Komsa told Heeney that de Wit’s family is still grieving and were unable to provide victim impact statements because the loss is “still too painful, too raw.”
She noted the case law on fentanyl and criminal negligence is sparse, especially in Ontario. But fentanyl “is a drug of immense, devastating proportions.”