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A decade after trucking drugs into Windsor, doda smuggler faces justice

With the Crown calling for a six-year prison term and the defence seeking house arrest, a Windsor judge has a huge range of sentencing options to choose from in determining a fit punishment for a drug-smuggling commercial trucker.

a sign on the side of a building: The Superior Court of Justice building in downtown Windsor. (C) Provided by Windsor Star The Superior Court of Justice building in downtown Windsor.

An actual sentencing decision has been delayed until September due to the current COVID-19 situation, so his penalty won’t be announced until more than 11 years after Satwinder Jeet Singh Khera’s tractor trailer was pulled over for secondary inspection by Canada Customs at the Ambassador Bridge on July 30, 2010. Mixed in with his commercial load that night were 32 boxes containing nearly 180 kilograms of opium poppy heads, used to create doda, a morphine-laced illegal drug commonly referred to as “the poor man’s heroin.” With the long delay in justice being served, Khera, now 40, might get a sentencing break.

In recent years, Canadian judges have been permitted to impose conditional sentences for such drug convictions. At a sentencing hearing before Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas on Thursday, defence lawyer Paul Dhaliwal asked for just that — a two-year term to be served from home with Khera being required to wear an ankle bracelet for monitoring. Khera’s case was originally set for trial in 2015, but a bench warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear.

He returned to Canada in 2019 after several years in India and pleaded guilty a year ago to a single count of importing into Canada a Schedule 1 substance, namely opium poppy heads (morphine). Dhaliwal said his client, from the Toronto area, had returned to his home village that year while out on bail and had suffered a leg injury in a motorcycle crash. Then, when his father died in 2016, he had to stay longer to help his relatives retain the family farm.

Dhaliwal described Khera, a married father of two with no prior criminal record, as a simple drug-carrying “mule” who didn’t understand the seriousness of his offence. The lawyer also cited a B.C. court case in which the judge described doda not as a hard drug in the same league as others in Schedule 1, like heroin and cocaine, but more akin to cannabis marijuana. “A conditional sentence can send a strong message of denunciation and deterrence,” said Dhaliwal, who also suggested his client’s punishment come with 300 community service volunteer hours over three years.

In arguing for a much harsher sentence, federal prosecutor Sue Szasz said doda is “a serious, hard drug,” and that a longer prison sentence was required to send a proper message of denunciation and deterrence, particularly in a city that hosts the busiest land border crossing in the country with thousands of daily commercial crossings.

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Szasz said it would be impossible to check every single commercial truck entering Canada via the Ambassador Bridge and that officials on both sides of the border have “placed their trust in the system put in place for spot inspections of tractor trailers coming into Canada.” At the time he was nabbed, Khera was enrolled in a binational program describing him as a trusted international trucker for quicker customs processing. “The aggravating circumstances in this case greatly outweigh the mitigating,” said Szasz. Police estimated the value of Khera’s doda shipment at over £300,000.

“The grave concern has been, and continues to be, that cartels and other drug trafficking organizations have extended, and continue to extend, their reach across the United States and into Canada,” she said.

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