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Greater Victoria man gets 3.5 years in prison linked to $400K drug bust in 2019

Jason Van Winkle was sentenced on charges related to three separate arrests, but given leniency for working toward addiction recovery
This is the haul that was found at Jason Van Winkle's house by Saanich police in 2019.

A man convicted of numerous drug trafficking offences — including those related to a bust in 2019 in which police seized roughly $400,000 worth of cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and cash — was given three-and-a-half years in prison by a Victoria judge on Monday, June 24.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Saunders said of the crimes that 48-year-old Jason Van Winkle was charged that it "is no doubt the tip of the iceberg in terms of his involvement in the drug trade" at the time of his arrests.

That being said, Saunders noted the extensive efforts Van Winkle has made in recovering from drug addiction over the past two years, using this as a justification to reduce his sentence from what would otherwise have been a six-and-a-half years prison term.

Van Winkle also receives credit for time served and will therefore only be forced to spend just under two more years behind bars. The maximum penalty for the charges was life in prison.

Noting both Van Winkle's recovery work and childhood trauma in his sentence, Saunders also considered the man's long criminal history that includes a manslaughter conviction in 2012 resulting form the death of a man he assaulted in a Rock Bay motel room in 2011. He was given three years behind bars for that offence.

A long list of drug-related offences

The string of drug crimes Van Winkle was sentenced for on Monday began with an arrest in February of 2019.

According to court documents, that first arrest happened after Van Winkle was observed by a police officer driving around the area near Quadra and Yates Streets in Victoria engaged in what appeared to the officer to be drug sales.

The officer ran the vehicle's plates and found it belonged to Van Winkle, who was already known to police as being allegedly involved in drug dealing. The officer decided to call a number for Van Winkle that had been provided by an informant, and set up a drug buy, texting the number saying "Yo J, it's Wes. Got shirts," with "shirts" being a nickname for cocaine.

When the officer met Van Winkle in a parking garage and then arrested him, he found cash, 35.2 grams of cocaine, 27.3 grams of fentanyl and heroin, and 6.3 grams of methamphetamine.

Then later that year, police built enough of a case against Van Winkle to arrest him for a second time, this time with a plan to also search his house. 

All told, police found over 3 kilograms of drugs — this included 1.4 kilos of cocaine, one kilo of which was in brick form and was 83 per cent pure — worth an estimated $350,000, as well as $40,000 in cash, $25,000 in stolen property and weapons that included a baton and two replica firearms.

Fast forward to May of 2021, Van Winkle was out on bail when police responded to a report of a verbal dispute between a man and a woman at a Langford gas station. The couple were in a car, and when police followed them back to a house, they identified the driver as Van Winkle, who they alleged was "highly intoxicated."

He was arrested for breach of conditions, and a search at the house revealed 17 grams of fentanyl and benzodiazapine, 17 grams of methamphetamine and more than $11,000 in cash.

Since 2021, Van Winkle was convicted for charges related to all of these arrests. Sentencing was combined into the one hearing on Monday. 

During sentencing, Saunders described Van Winkle's actions in the context of B.C.'s toxic drug crises, pointing out how he was found in possession of a "dangerous" combination of benzodiazapine and fentanyl, and that the amounts found in his Dec. 2019 arrest are "indicative of involvement at a higher lever."

"There is no means of accounting for the human misery his drug trafficking has contributed to our society," Saunders said.

But the judge also went over Van Winkle's long effort at recovery from drug addiction that has followed the 2021 overdose death of his girlfriend, that included him getting into the New Roads residential treatment centre in Oct. 2022, and maintaining sobriety since.

His progress reports from New Roads are overwhelmingly positive, shining a light on how he went from closed off and not willing to talk to helping other addicts, even working at Our Place doing outreach.

A major hiccup in this recovery came in February this year when Van Winkle was arrested on a domestic violence charge. That charge was stayed, and Saunders said he is satisfied it does not represent a return to his former behaviour. He has been held in custody since, however.

In imposing his sentence, Saunders expressed not wanting Van Winkle to backslide in his recovery, choosing leniency and recommending he be considered as a candidate for the Guthrie Therapeutic Community at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre.

"I've just been so impressed with the steps you've taken towards your recovery," Saunders told Van Winkle after sentencing, adding  "sobriety is a gift and it has to be maintained one day at a time."

About the Author: Mark Page

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