Criminal Law Journal no. 6: “This experience taught me a lot about how non-white women support each other while in the criminal justice system”

This week’s readings examined the concept of possession and its various components, like knowledge and control. The first case, R v Pham, involved an accused being charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. At the trial level, Pham was convicted for possession of cocaine. However, there was no evidence of actual possession and “the Crown’s case rested on constructive or joint possession” (para 1). Pham appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal that the verdict was unreasonable, not supported by evidence and that the Trial Judge misinterpreted the evidence. However, the sentence appeal was abandoned, and subsequently, the conviction appeal was dismissed.

When I first read Pham’s case, I recalled three women I met while I was at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Center (EMDC). I was there that weekend for breach of recognizance.

The three women I met included another Indigenous woman who was not from London and two Asian women who recently moved to the area. The Indigenous woman was from northern Ontario. I did not know her but she knew the same people I knew. The two Asian women were arrested for drug-related offences. They were worried about the process and did not know what was going to happen to them. They were arrested at their apartment while watching drugs. However, they were not the main people who were dealing the drugs. They were just watching the drugs.

This experience taught me a lot about how non-white women support each other while in the criminal justice system. The Indigenous woman began to explain to the Asian women what would happen in the courtroom, after the courtroom and potentially after their release. It became clear that through this conversation they were girlfriends of the men who were the main dealers. After reading Pham, I am reminded of this same experience.

When I was reading Pham, I questioned what happened to the other individual who was arrested and charged in relation to the same event. I also felt that something was missing from Pham’s story or felt that parts of her story were exaggerated. For instance, the ability to see drugs being exchanged between closed doors through a peephole seems very improbable. While one can assume that drugs are being sold at the apartment with the amount of foot traffic coming and going, I find it hard to believe one can see drug dealing through a peephole. The witness would have to be constantly watching the peephole when she hears footsteps near her door. The size of these bags and the amount of drugs in these bags are usually so small that a simple handshake will suffice to complete the transfer of drugs.

Additionally, I find there is a gendered issue at play with Pham, like with the two Asian women I met while at EMDC. The two Asian women were only watching the drugs. Yet, they were the ones who were arrested. Some may argue that drug dealing is bad and Pham should be punished for her actions. There is also the argument that many times women who are involved in the drug trade are normally lower echelon drug dealers. Police also happen to target the lower echelons of the drug trade in hopes of obtaining more information. I do not agree with targeting and criminalizing population groups that do not have as much power as the ones at the top all in the name of “protecting” society. This idea to target lower echelons of drug dealers is kind of antithetical to the idea of protecting victims. Though I am not arguing Pham or these two Asian women are victims, the over-criminalization of women seems to be an issue that is subordinate within criminal justice theorizing.

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