A Chinese immigrant has been ordered to publicly apologize after being convicted along with two other men in a multi-million dollar marijuana growing operation in Vanderhoof.
After months of surveillance, RCMP acquired a warrant, raided the property on Jan. 25, 2011, and discovered 2,629 marijuana plants, a large industrial generator and 20 barrels of liquid fertilizer, among other equipment.
More than 492 pounds of marijuana, with a projected retail value of $4.5 million, was seized and the men involved were later charged and convicted of various offenses.
It was a large bust, but not unlike other commercial marijuana grow operations in B.C.
What was abnormal, however, was a conditional sentence order (CSO) imposed by the presiding judge, Honourable M.J. Brecknell, who ordered one of the co-convicted, Chun Kuang, 33, to write a letter of apology to the Omineca Express detailing his history as a Chinese immigrant and expressing remorse for his involvement in the grow operation.
“This is a weird condition,” said Susan Stapleton, Kuang’s probation officer.
“I’ve never seen this before.”
The raid was the result of a year-long RCMP investigation called Project Crime.
Launched in 2009, the project targeted marijuana grow operations in the Cariboo and northeastern region of B.C., according to Federal Prosecutor Ernie Froess, who convicted some of the offenders involved.
The project found that many individuals from the Lower Mainland were traveling to rural areas in northern B.C. to grow marijuana.
“What we’ve stated in court is the fact that many areas of the Cariboo, the smaller towns, are considered safer to grow marijuana because they either have less police resources, they’re more remote, and (the grow op is) less likely to be detected by somebody walking by,” said Froess.
Froess said it’s common for a judge to order convicted individuals to write letters of apology to acknowledge wrongdoing, but he could only speculate as to why Judge Brecknell ordered Kuang to write a letter divulging his guilt and remorse to the Omineca Express.
“Maybe in this case, the victim in the broader sense is the community of Vanderhoof and it was deemed appropriate for this individual to write a letter of apology to the community as a whole. But at this point I can only surmise,” he said.
According to his defence counsel, Kuang, a resident of Richmond, performed cooking, cleaning and laundry duties at the grow operation for six weeks without pay. Although he was aware marijuana was illegal, Kuang assisted in the grow operation for an additional six weeks to obtain his wages.
“He didn’t intend to become involved but had few options once he arrived,” his defence argued in court.
Kuang’s defence claimed he was stranded at the property without a vehicle and didn’t know where he was located due to the secrecy of the grow operation, so he felt compelled to participate.
“At the beginning, I did not know this was a place for growing hemps,” Kuang wrote in a letter to the Omineca Express.
“At that time, as a stranger in a strange place, I did not know how to leave there. Stupidly, I participated in growing those plants.”
In December 2012, Kuang plead guilty to Producing, Cultivating or Growing a Controlled Substance. Federal prosecutors sought a sentence of 18 months to two years of jail time, noting that recent legislation required a minimum three-year sentence in a federal penitentiary when more than 500 marijuana plants are produced.
“I am deeply sorry for the bad effects for the local residents and society from hemps. From now on, I will abide by the social order, do more beneficial things to society and be a person who makes contribution to society,” Kuang wrote.
A Lower Mainland man, Kam Lam, was previously convicted of growing marijuana and received a three-year sentence, while defendants Kuang and Guo Ma were fined $2,300, received two years of house arrest and a lengthy list of CSOs.
“It is clear that the defendants were not the principals of the operation. They were gardeners and in the case of Mr. Kuang, the cook,” wrote Judge Brecknell in provincial court documents.
“A lengthy (CSO) as opposed to a sentence served in a provincial prison is an appropriate and just sentence for both defendants. They should consider themselves extremely lucky that their involvement in such criminal behavior occurred when it did, because if it had occurred today they would be facing a minimum term of three years in a federal penitentiary.”
In determining a sentence for Kuang and Ma, more than 60 case files were made available to Judge Brecknell for review.
“There are so many differing sentences for marijuana offenses in the province that it cannot be said that there is any common judicial opinion as to what is the right thing to do,” said Madam Justice Southin in one case file.
In others cases involving offenses related to marijuana grow operations, Judges Bayliff and Morgan and Justices Harris and Joyce arrived at a series of principles and factors to be considered in sentencing, some of which recognized the importance of “denunciation and deterrence” as important sentencing principles.
“A CSO may have significant denunciatory and deterrent effects, particularly if it has strict conditions,” one principle outlined.