Chilliwack opium growers will serve sentences in the community

JENNIFER SALTMAN

THE PROVINCE

Two men convicted of growing an opium poppy crop worth tens of thousands of dollars will serve their two-year sentences in the community.

Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal, 26, and Tehal Singh Bath, 33, each pleaded guilty last year to charges of production of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Sentencing took place Wednesday in B.C. Provincial Court in Chilliwack.

The men, who are from Mission and Abbotsford, respectively, were arrested on Aug. 23, 2010 while tending plants in a field on Keith Wilson Road in Chilliwack.

The field was bordered by corn and in the middle were thousands of opium plants. The pods of the plants were to be ground into doda, a powder used predominantly by members of the South Asian community to make tea that provides a high similar to, but far milder than, opiates such as morphine and heroin.

The case was the largest opium bust in Canadian history and involved the first convictions for opium production in Canada.

During sentencing, the size of the crop, the yield and value were at issue.

A witness called by the Crown based his estimates on 600,000 plants producing two to five pods per plant. He said that many plants would produce 1,200 to 3,000 kilograms of doda valued at $1.6 million to $4 million.

Another expert estimated that a field containing approximately 558,000 plants that produced two opium pods each would yield 1,200 kilograms of doda. He said the value would be about $15 million, noting that the price of doda has skyrocketed over the past couple of years because of its scarcity in Canada.

Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson argued that there were fewer plants than police estimated and they would have produced far fewer pods.

Judge Roy Dickey said he does not agree with the estimates provided by the Crown witnesses, finding that the number of acres containing opium plants, the number of pods and the value were exaggerated.

Dickey said approximately five acres of the property contained plants, noting that police may not have taken into account the border of corn and a dirt road when making calculations. Dickey said there were between 120,000 and 240,000 plants — closer to 120,000 — producing one to two pods each. He said that would result in 120 to 240 kilograms of doda.

“The value of this amount of doda is not clear,” Dickey said, however he placed the value between $120,000 and $240,000.

Crown sought a prison sentence of at least two years, while Donaldson asked for a conditional sentence.

Dickey said both men were of previous good character and are relied upon to support their families. He accepted that both men are deeply remorseful for their actions and found that they are unlikely to reoffend. Based on their history and personal circumstances, Dickey said Dhaliwal and Bath do not constitute a danger to the community.

“For both offenders, this offence seems to be out of character,” Dickey said.

Dickey sentenced both men to conditional sentences of two years less a day. They are not allowed to have contact with each other — with some exceptions — during that time, must abide by a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and must perform 240 hours of community service.

jensaltman@theprovince.com

twitter.com/jensaltman





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