The Ottawa police drug squad didn’t waste time or take any chances when it got a complaint that fentanyl was being sold out of a public housing unit on Caldwell Avenue.
All of the evidence — including video surveillance — indicated that the drug of death was being trafficked at the unit so police got a warrant and, on April 25, busted down the door and arrested Royston Christie, 61.
The authorized drug raid was executed just days after a woman had overdosed on fentanyl in the same unit. The woman lived thanks to the paramedics who saved her life.
Christie was fingerprinted and shown a jail cell. He was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking fentanyl, simple drug possession and proceeds of crime ($135 seized by police).
The police department’s media relations unit issued a news release the next day, naming Christie as an accused fentanyl dealer at a time when the drug was killing people, from addicts to first-time users, across the city.
The news release said police had seized 15 grams of straight powder fentanyl and said it had a street value of $7,000. A deputy police chief known for his fight against fentanyl was quick to tweet the “excellent work” by the department’s drug unit.
The police release also named Christie’s street. The statement was picked up widely across the country, and all of the news stories drew heavily from it. No news outlets — including the Citizen — had Christie’s side of the story.
“I was presumed guilty,” Christie told the Citizen.
His release was contested by federal prosecutors and Christie spent a week in jail before winning bail. He had never been in jail before, let alone the notorious Innes Road jail.
“It was horrible, the way you are treated,” Christie said.
Days after he got bail, he was evicted from his public housing unit on the grounds that he was selling fentanyl.
But here’s the thing — the lab tests finally came back, and it turns out that the powder seized by police wasn’t actually fentanyl.
The results came back as not a drug, and Christie says the powder, which was seized from his linen closet by the bathroom was actually face powder one of his girlfriends got from the food bank.
The police say lab results take time and their policy is to charge first if officers believe they’ve seized drugs, and analyze later, especially at a time when fentanyl is the most deadly drug on street.
Federal prosecutors have withdrawn the charges against Christie, who now feels vindicated.
His lawyer, Tobias Okada-Phillips, said: “I support my client trying to clear his name. As a defence lawyer, it is frustrating when our clients are presumed guilty. This is especially so at the bail stage when so little information is available.”
Christie says he routinely let drug addicts hang out in his apartment, to use clean needles and letting them take showers. He started giving refuge to drug addicts after seeing them shoot up in the stairwell, he says.
Christie didn’t attend his May 7 eviction hearing, saying he never saw the notice letter. At the hearing, a police officer testified that 15 grams of fentanyl had been seized. The hearing also heard that there had been 25 drug overdoses on one weekend in the past month across the city at the time.
But in fact, no fentanyl had been seized from Christie’s apartment.
He had 72 hours to clear out his apartment, but he had nowhere to put all his stuff. He says he lost three quarters of his belongings.
The sheriff who enforced the eviction order called for back-up as a safety precaution and police dispatched four officers.
“I want my apartment back,” Christie said, whose criminal charges have been dropped.
“I lost everything.”