VANCOUVER – With the sun streaming through the atrium windows of the B.C. Supreme Court building in downtown Vancouver, Carol Gwilt embraced a half-dozen supporters yesterday before walking inside to be sentenced for trafficking in marijuana. A little over an hour later, in a windowless courtroom, the former owner of the Da Kine cafe was prevented by a court sheriff from even shaking the hand of a friend as she was led from the prisoner’s box to be transported to jail to serve a 17-month sentence.
Madam Justice Catherine Wedge imposed the sentence after she accepted a joint submission from the Crown and the defence. Ms. Gwilt has 15 months remaining in her sentence as a result of credit for time served in 2004 before she was granted bail. Ms. Gwilt, 39, was also required to forfeit $60,000 that was seized in a Sept. 9, 2004, police raid of the east Vancouver cafe and another $11,000 found during her second arrest a week later. The cafe was closed after the raid.
Ms. Gwilt, who worked with mentally handicapped adults before her involvement with the Da Kine, was sentenced after convictions on two counts related to marijuana trafficking and two counts of possession of proceeds of crime.
Crown attorney Paul Riley told the judge that while trafficking in marijuana is considered less serious than in so-called “hard drugs,” it would send “the wrong message” if Ms. Gwilt were not sent to jail. “Trafficking in illegal substances is not tolerated,” the prosecutor said. Mr. Riley said he accepted that Ms. Gwilt is remorseful, but if she continues to disagree with the prohibition against marijuana, she should express it through “pro-social” means.
More than 20 Vancouver police officers were involved in the raid on the Da Kine, which openly sold marijuana, one day after the provincial solicitor-general criticized city officials for having a “ho-hum” attitude about the cafe.
Jason Gratl, Ms. Gwilt’s lawyer, wanted to submit background information about the city’s views of the cafe, but Judge Wedge said it was not relevant to the court proceeding. “I am bound by the provisions of the Criminal Code on sentencing,” she explained.
The material that was not accepted by the court included comments from three Vancouver councillors in 2004 that revoking the business licence of the Da Kine was a very low priority.
Six days before the raid, a Vancouver police spokeswoman said that investigating grow-ops and organized crime was more important to the department.
The belief that marijuana consumption is tolerated in Vancouver to a greater extent than in other cities is “as plain as the proposition that the Earth is round,” Mr. Gratl said in court. After the sentence was imposed, he said he agreed to a jail term for his client because it was in the accepted range of penalties normally imposed for this type of marijuana offence. “It is a question of law,” Mr. Gratl said. “If it were a question of feeling, she would be out here with me.”
Ms. Gwilt said very little outside court before she was sentenced other than she was prepared to go to jail. She will celebrate her 40th birthday next month in custody.
The friends who attended court yesterday were visibly upset. “The law is the law, yet they bend it for people all the time,” said John Shavluk, the director of a pro-marijuana group called End Prohibition. “If Carol Gwilt deserves to be in jail, we all deserve to be in jail. I have never met a more compassionate person.”