Four Mexican nationals charged with importing and possession for the purpose of trafficking 106 kilograms of methamphetamine have been released on $10,000 bail apiece, with the COVID-19 pandemic playing a role in the Surrey provincial court judge’s decision.
Judge Mark Jetté said that despite reports from BC Corrections that the crisis is “being successfully handled inside our detention facilities, it appears to me inevitable that these places cannot remain as infection free zones while the virus continues its relentless march into every corner of the planet.”
“None of the four accused have a criminal history in Canada prior to their arrests for these offences,” Jetté said of Sergio Ivan Cota Garcia, 34, Alan Jesus Hernandez Cedillo, 25, Xavier Eduardo Hernandez Cedillo, 27, and Roberto Renteria Maldonado, 35.
“I have no information with respect to their history in Mexico beyond their own assertions, through counsel, that they do not have criminal records in that country.”
The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“This means that each of them must demonstrate on a balance of probabilities that their detention is not required,” Jetté noted. “All four accused are currently subject to an immigration hold, and will have an immigration detention hearing once this matter has been decided.”
None has family in Canada.
A shipping container from Monterey, Mexico arrived at Surrey docks on Jan. 25, 2020, containing what was described as quarry stone. The importer was a company with a listed address on West 16th Avenue in Vancouver.
Canada Border Services agents inspected the shipment, which contained 20 pallets each carrying 50 quarry blocks. They detected some “anomalies” in some blocks with an X-Ray machine, broke one open and found methamphetamine, the court heard. There was a total of 54 bags of the drug which if sold by the kilogram, the judge noted, would have been worth about $1 million.
Jetté noted that police installed tracking devices and on February 25 the pallets were loaded onto a truck in Mission and taken to a warehouse on 132A Street in Surrey. “Police commenced surveillance at that location.”
Defence counsel argued the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic needed to be considered.
Jetté noted in his reasons for judgment that the accused are “presumed innocent, and the evidence is not overwhelming. They do not have a criminal history in this country. The alleged offences do not involve resort to weapons, or actual or threatened violence.”
He also noted that although none of the accused “claim to be particularly vulnerable to a more severe outcome if infected by reason of age or pre-existing conditions, there is no guarantee that their symptoms would be mild or non-life threatening, and there is a public health concern arising from the risk of spread of this illness to others, including staff, within the confined quarters of a jail setting.”
He said conditions inherent to a custodial setting suggest “most unfortunately, the battle will be lost here as well, with predictable consequences for inmates, staff, and the community at large.COVID-19 has also caused a significant disruption to the operations of this court.
“All non-custodial trials have been adjourned to fix dates in June. Most in-custody trials have now also been adjourned and will not be set down again until months into the future. The stacking of all of these cases will inevitably push newer matters like this one, which sits at the back of the queue, much further down the line.”