A young man’s substance use and accumulating drug debts led him to become immersed in a lifestyle that hurt the community, according to details presented Friday in a court sentencing hearing.
Vishal Bajaj, 27, was sentenced in Abbotsford provincial court to 18 months in prison for three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, to which he had previously pleaded guilty. Six others identical counts were stayed, as was one count of breaching his bail conditions.
He was given just over five months’ credit for time already served, leaving him with another 13 months of jail time.
Police previously identified Bajaj as among those involved in the ongoing Townline Hill conflict, which involves two groups of young men battling over drug turf in west Abbotsford.
The conflict has resulted in several drive-by shootings and two killings. Harwin Baringh, 18, was shot in his vehicle on Sparrow Drive in October 2014 and Ping Shun Ao, 74, was struck by a stray bullet intended for his next-door neighbour on Promontory Court on Sept. 2, 2014.
Defence lawyer David Silverman told the court that Bajaj, the youngest of five, was pulled into a criminal lifestyle after his father’s death.
He was 17 at the time, and clashed with his oldest brother, who became head of the household.
Bajaj moved out on his own and worked at construction and restaurant jobs for a period before turning to drugs and then to trafficking to support his habit.
“He really had no significant means of support (and) was struggling; simply surviving day to day,” Silverman said.
He described Bajaj, whose only other prior conviction was a driving offence, as “very unsophisticated” in his unlawful activities.
“This is not a person who is a hardened drug-dealing criminal. At best, he is an amateur – and not a very good one, in my opinion,” Silverman said.
Bajaj was arrested and charged by police on three separate occasions last year after police surveilled him selling drugs at his residence and from vehicles at various locations around Abbotsford.
He was first charged in May following a drug transaction in the area of Upper Maclure Road and Mallard Street. Another man, Iqbal Kular, was also charged, and is still before the courts.
Bajaj was again arrested on Sept. 8 after police executed a search warrant at his residence in the 30700 block of Sandpiper Drive.
His third arrest was just eight days later, when he and another man, Kuldeep Gill, were arrested in the Safeway parking lot in the 27500 block of Fraser Highway in Aldergrove. Charges against Gill have been stayed.
In all three instances, police discovered cocaine, heroin and meth, as well as drug paraphernalia, cellphones, cash, and “scoresheets” to keep track of drug tabs.
Silverman said the quantity of drugs was “not huge,” amounting to a value of about $600 in each case.
The Crown recommended that Bajaj serve a sentence of 18 months, while Silverman suggested a range of 12 to 18 months would be more appropriate.
Judge Steven Point decided on the highest end of that range, saying that although the drug quantities were “moderate,” Bajaj continued to traffic even after his first and second arrests.
“The persistence is something that can’t be ignored,” Point said.
He was also critical of the types of drugs being sold, saying they are “highly addictive drugs, damaging to individuals.”
“Of all the enterprises out there, this is one of the worst in terms of its negative impacts on society,” Point said.