Guelph decide arms down 10-year sentence in vintage firearm, drug trafficking case

A Guelph man has been given a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking and weapons charges in connection to a 2019 arrest at a south end motel.

According to a sentencing report, released in late April, Justice Michael K. Wendl imposed the decade-long sentence to Thomas Stephens, 30, of Guelph.

In December, Wendl had found Stephens guilty of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, possession of methamphetamine for the purpose of trafficking, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, careless transportation of a firearm, breach of a weapon contrary to a prohibition order and two counts of breach of probation.

It was also at that time that Stephens was cleared of several other firearms charges because the gun he was in possession of at the time, a .44 Smith & Wesson Russian revolver, was found to be too old to legally be considered a gun.

Under the Criminal Code, a handgun is determined to be an antique firearm if it was made prior to 1898 — and under that same act, that means it cannot be legally considered a gun for some criminal charges, even if the gun is operational.

Records indicated the gun had been shipped to London, Ont., in August 1889.

The firearm charges that Stephens was found guilty of, however, resulted in the brunt of his sentence, with Wendl imposing an eight-year term.

“Defence counsel argues that the range as outlined in Graham does not apply to Mr. Stephens since he was not convicted of that type of regulatory offence since the antique firearm was exempted,” Wendl wrote, referring to R. v. Graham, a 2018 Ontario Superior Court decision he cited to determine the appropriate sentence.

“I disagree. Simply put, Mr. Stephens had a loaded firearm at his ready.”

Wendl added the provisions in the Criminal Code laying out what is legally a gun for some criminal charges “was to protect legitimate antique firearms collectors, not someone who protects their illegitimate drug business with an antique firearm.”

“Moreover, allowing for such a distinction would arguably encourage those involved in illicit activity to do so with an antique firearm,” Wendl wrote.

“This could not be the purpose of Parliament in creating this exemption, particularly in an era with increased concern over gun violence.”

In the sentencing report, Wendl notes that Stephens is no stranger to the criminal justice system, with 29 convictions entered since 2005.

“While I acknowledge that many entries are for administrative offences, what stands out in relation to this sentencing is an entry for kidnapping with a firearm for which he received six years,” the justice wrote.

In giving the 10-year sentence, Wendl noted that it took “into account the mitigating factors, namely the social support he has in his family, his acknowledgement, provided to the court through his reference letters that he has a substance abuse problem and the difficulties he faced growing up due to the relationship with his father.”

“I also agree that given his support, acknowledgement of substance issues and his age that he has some prospects for rehabilitation and, therefore, a longer sentence would not be appropriate,” he concluded.

While Stephens was given a 10-year sentence, Wendl said six months would be deducted “for COVID credit in pre-sentence custody.”

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