Clutching a yellow notepard and dressed all in black, Jinagh Farrouch Navas-Rivas stood up and approached the podium in courtroom 106 at Richmond Provincial Court on March 13.
The last time he was in front of a notable crowd was civic election night, Nov. 19, 2011. Vision Vancouver had just been re-elected the majority party at Vancouver city hall, park board and school board. Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" blared on the speakers in the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel ballroom. Despite the controversies of the Stanley Cup riot and Occupy Vancouver and questions about campaign financing, Vision Vancouver repeated.
Gregor Robertson, Mayor of the City of Vancouver, Chairman of the Vancouver Police Board and Navas-Rivas’s foster father, finished his victory speech:
"One more thank-you that I know all of us candidates want to make, the words are not powerful enough to truly thank our families for their support and the sacrifices they make in political life. So, to my sweetheart Amy, to my kids Hanna, Satchel, Terra and birthday boy Jinagh, thank-you for putting up with the empty seat at the dinner table night after night, thank you for smiling and handing out, (in) monsoon-like conditions, leaflets, door-knocking and for keeping me grounded at justt the right times. Thank you and I love you."
Navas-Rivas stood to the Mayor's right. What a way to celebrate a 21st birthday! Smiles all around.
Being the foster son of the Mayor had its privileges, even after moving out of the Mayor's house. On Feb. 12, 2010, Navas-Rivas was at the exclusive Hotel Vancouver party hosted by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, United States Vice-President Joe Biden and even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were there. When the Games ended on Feb. 28, 2010, Navas-Rivas had a seat in the dignitaries box at B.C. Place Stadium. The name card on his chair read "Jinagh Robertson."
Little did anyone know, that on election night 2011, Navas-Rivas was addicted to cocaine. The night before, he had brokered the sale of a handgun to an undercover cop. He had been under police surveillance for two weeks.
But on this rainy Wednesday afternoon in mid-March, Navas-Rivas was the centre of attention. He knew he would exit the room in handcuffs with a jail sentence no less than three years. Rather than endure a parade of evidence, including surveillance recordings, at a 10-day trial, he pleaded guilty last December to trafficking in cocaine between Nov. 4-Dec. 9, 2011 and to the Nov. 18, 2011 transfer of a Ruger .22 calibre handgun (serial no. 220-11838), Remington brand ammunition and two magazines.
Police got a warrant for his arrest before Christmas 2011. Prompted by Robertson’s plea for him to surrender, Navas-Rivas admitted his involvement in a dial-a-dope gang to police on Jan. 5, 2012. Five months later, he was out on bail, in the care of Kathy Leavens and Peter Noble, his original foster parents who took him in at age 9. When they were out-of-town, Navas-Rivas returned to live at the Robertson household. He got a job as a labourer and chose to finish several high school courses, achieving high marks in math and sciences.
Navas-Rivas’s mother and grandmother were in the gallery. The Mayor was not. Amy Robertson and daughter, Hanna were, to offer their support before a tearful goodbye and bear hugs. It was Hanna that introduced Navas-Rivas to the family in 2007 after he moved away from the Leavens/Noble house. Back then, Robertson was an NDP MLA and a local organic juice magnate.
On this day, however, Navas-Rivas was going to the big house.
On this day, however, Navas-Rivas was going to the big house.
“I’d like to say I'm deeply sorry for the mistakes that I've made,” Navas-Rivas told the court.
“When I reflect on these mistakes in my past, I see how depressed and sad I was at the time and how all this contributed directly to my actions. I know there's no excuse for what I've done, and now it’s time for me to take responsibility and serve my punishment.
“I’ve been working on developing as a person and focussing on the good things in my life, such as loved ones and school. I’d like to continue school in jail if that’s a possibility, I’d like to continue to focus on mathematics... I have a renewed interest in school and taken a general liking to my studies. I believe that there is some good to come out of this experience. This experience really opened my eyes and changed me as a person, I want to be a better person, through and through. I’d like to thank everyone that’s supported me through this process. I’d like to say I’m sorry again and how much I regret my actions.”
If Robertson runs again in 2014, Navas-Rivas won't be at the Vision Vancouver party. Justice Patrick Chen sentenced Navas-Rivas to time served (five months in jail), plus six months in prison on the first count. On the second count, three-and-a-half years. Four years, total. Plus a lifetime ban on firearms and to submit a DNA sample.
This is what Chen said during the sentencing hearing, after the submissions of defence lawyer Emmet Duncan and Crown counsel Ernie Froess.
|Navas-Rivas in 2011 RCMP news release.|
“During the investigation, the undercover officer was introduced to the accused by (Vinh Hoang) David Le when the accused was asked to handle the Nov. 4, 2011 transaction of one pound of cocaine.
“During the undercover officer’s communication with the accused, during this transaction they discussed further drug transactions and also the sale of firearms. The accused bragged that he was a broker who could supply both drugs and firearms. The investigation at that point began to focus on the accused and on firearms, as well as drugs. The undercover officer made further requests to the accused to purchase more cocaine and also firearms. Ultimately the Ruger semi automatic .22 calibre handgun together with extra clip and a box of bullets was supplied on Nov. 18, 2011.
"A further purchase of 5 oz. of cocaine was arranged by the accused on Dec. 9, 2011. The accused did not appear to be the principal offender or supplier in any of these transactions, for either the cocaine or handgun. Other co-accused appeared to be playing the more controlling and dominating role. These others also appeared to be directing the accused during these transactions, for example, to count money... the accused never handled the handgun which was handed to the undercover officer in exchange for cash by other unidentified persons... he was never more than a small player in these criminal transactions.
"His submission was that he was paid $100 to $200 for his role in each of these transactions. A paltry amount considering the amount of money that was exchanged.
“While the accused bragged to the undercover officer about the scale and sophistication of his criminal activity and enterprise, police surveillance contradicted virtually all of his claims, which the accused now attributes to puffery or salesmanship. Police surveillance shows during the entirety of their investigation the accused was not living the life of a successful drug dealer. He did not own a car and relied on public transit to get around. He had no place to live except a three bedroom apartment shared by five people that he did not have a key to...
“The accused was prepared to participate in the sale of a handgun to a person he believed to be a drug dealer, he understood the only purpose a drug dealer would want to purchase such a handgun would be for protection. In other words, used to injure or kill people that might be viewed as a threat. It is fair, in my view, to consider the mayhem and carnage that guns have caused in this society, in this province, in the context of the business of illegal drug enterprises, and the danger that that has caused to the public as a whole...
“Notwithstanding that he was playing the role of broker, and his role was never as principal offender or supplier, it is clear to me from the circumstances that are provided to me that during the period of these offences, it was the aim or the ambition of the accused to embark on a criminal lifestyle. Also, the sale of illegal handguns and firearms is inherently dangerous...
"The accused made a number of calculated decisions to break the law over a period of time. these were not offences of mere opportunity or momentary lapses in judgment. There was some planning and deliberation involved.
“The amount of cocaine involved in these two transactions, particularly the second one, was not insignificant, 5 oz. for several thousands of dollars.
"Further, the accused was motivated by greed. I accept he was also addicted, but he had a strong support network that could have suggested a different path...
“The courts have for some time now recognized the widespread impact of trafficking in schedule 1 drugs. In particular, dial-a-dope operations are generally regarded as offences that require some deterrence and denunciation. These are the kinds of criminal drug enterprises that bring drugs into every community.
“There are also, however, many mitigating circumstances.
“Firstly, the accused has no prior criminal history. He has plead guilty at an early opportunity. He is very young, 22 years old and 20 and 21 at the time of these offences. He’s also in many ways a young 22 year old and in other ways an older and wiser 22 year old...
"But he's still a very young man. I accept defence counsel's submission that the accused has remained drug free, that he has complied with very strict terms of bail which are tantamount to a modified house arrest, he was on a curfew seven days a week and he has not committed any breaches of bail....
“This very strong support network of friends, family, foster family, that appear to be very committed to assisting the accused in his rehabilitation...
“They are hopeful, they give one hope that the accused can overcome the criminality and the other stresses that have led to that criminality to make a life for himself that is free of criminality.
“The accused must himself balance the various influences and experiences he’s gone through, he’s gone through a lot. He was abandoned as a young child, his mother left him to fend for himself. It’s not surprising... he has low self-esteem. That is a very negative experience.
“On the other hand, he has the benefit of these positive experiences of being surrounded by loving and supportive foster family members and friends and a mother who is now trying to re-establish a positive role in his life. Few people are blessed to have such a strong support network. At the same time the accused has already demonstrated the vulnerability of being influenced by negative peers, that is what led him to this criminal lifestyle that he was doing his best to embark on.
“I do accept the accused has taken his own initial steps to his own rehabilitation... the efforts the accused makes himself are the most important ones.
“In prison the accused will meet more negative peers, that goes without saying. Hopefully he will not stray from the new path that his support group insists he is now dedicating himself to... that he will use his time to better himself and forge a new life that will not only bring a brighter future for himself, but will justify the faith his family and friends have for him.”