Ex jail guard convicted of drug charge

A former Whitehorse Correctional Centre guard accused of trying to bring drugs into the jail was convicted Monday in Yukon Supreme Court.

A former Whitehorse Correctional Centre guard accused of trying to bring drugs into the jail was convicted Monday in Yukon Supreme Court.

Justice Ron Veale found Michael Gaber, 47, guilty of possessing methylphenidate – also known as Ritalin – for the purpose of trafficking.

On Dec. 26, 2013 Gaber was arrested at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre after a search found 59 pills wrapped in a condom in his pocket.

During a three-day trial held last January, Crown prosecutor Eric Marcoux played a recording of Gaber’s interrogation.

In it the former correctional officer admits smuggling tobacco and pills in the jail but denied knowing what they contained.

At some points in the interview, which is often garbled on the recording, Gaber volunteered information. He said he was feeling pressure from the inmates inside to bring in contraband and eventually caved.

Much of Gaber’s defence centred around the analysis done on one of the 59 pills seized.

Defence lawyer David Tarnow argued the Health Canada lab’s analysis wasn’t rigorous enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the pills contained Ritalin.

Testifying for the defence, Dr. Suzanne Perry was relentless when criticizing the analysis, calling it not scientifically valid.

She took issue with the type of tests the Health Canada analyst chose and the reference used to determine whether the pill contained Ritalin.

To determine a sample’s content, Health Canada analysts will run both the sample and a known substance through various testing equipment.

If the results of the tests are the same it means the sample contains the substance it was tested against.

Veale found that Perry was holding the Health Canada lab to standards only research labs use.

“The standard of scientific purity is not required (for Health Canada labs),” Veale said.

Perry has experience working with Nobel Prize-winning scientists and worked for the University of British Columbia’s research labs for over a decade.

Sarita Jaswal, the Health Canada analyst who tested one of the pills, has 30 years of experience with the Health Canada lab, routinely analyzing samples and testifying in court.

Veale noted the Health Canada lab was accredited by an international regulatory body and its procedures were evaluated every year.

Jaswal was credible, he ruled.

Jaswal went beyond what she was required to do by Health Canada procedures when analyzing the pill, Veale said.

She first looked at the pill itself which had “APO SR 20” written on it.

Looking in a reference book it corresponded to a 20 mg slow-release Ritalin pill manufactured by Apotex.

Jaswal then put the sample through three different tests.

Perry took issue with Jaswal visually matching the results obtained from the pill with the standard, calling it unscientific.

That’s overlooking other ways Jaswal confirmed the pill had Ritalin, Veale noted, that involved scientific calculations.

Another issue raised by the defence was the possibility the sample had been contaminated.

The RCMP officer who mailed 10 of the 59 pills to the Health Canada lab in Burnaby, B.C. admitted he didn’t use gloves when handling the pills.

He also didn’t clean the table he used to count and mail them.

While it’s not the recommended practice, Jaswal testified there would only be possible contamination if there was Ritalin in powdered form on the table.

That wasn’t the case, the officer testified.

Gaber was acquitted of a second count of possession for the purpose of trafficking a year ago after Veale excluded a bag of marijuana recovered in his car.

The correctional officers didn’t have a warrant and their search was illegal, Veale ruled at the time.

Both parties are back in Yukon Supreme Court next September for a sentencing hearing.

The Crown prosecutor indicated he will be seeking a term of imprisonment.

-with files from Ashley Joannou.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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