Iqaluit taxi driver gets jail time and $10,000 fine for bootlegging liquor
Lawyers say case exemplifies Nunavut’s ‘broken’ alcohol permitting system
An Iqaluit man has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $10,000 for running a bootlegging business out of his taxi.
Justice Bonnie Tulloch gave her written sentence in a document dated March 16.
In June 2020, Gabriel Martinez was charged with unlawful sale of liquor and selling liquor to a person under 19 after RCMP received a tip from staff at Nunavut’s alcohol permit system that he had purchased a large amount of liquor.
He pleaded guilty to these charges on March 5 in the Nunavut Court of Justice.
According to the sentence, the 29-year-old purchased 245 60-ounce bottles of alcohol between April 1 and June 15, 2020.
Police conducted surveillance of Martinez on June 23, where they watched him sell a bottle of liquor to a passenger in his taxi.
“The police immediately approached the accused’s male passenger, who was in possession of a sixty-ounce bottle of vodka which he admitted had been purchased for $180.00 from Mr. Martinez,” states the sentencing document.
“This person was only 17 years old.”
After their arrest, police confiscated $5,270 and 10 bottles of liquor.
Tulloch noted that both the Crown and defence lawyers said this case shows Nunavut’s permitting system for alcohol sales is “broken.”
Under the system, any adult is allowed to import as much alcohol as they want. In Martinez’s case, he was still allowed to purchase and import alcohol even after his account was flagged for suspicious activity.
Tulloch said she, as well as the Crown and defence, all agreed a 30-day jail sentence was an appropriate punishment, but the lawyers disagreed on how much Martinez should be fined.
The Crown wanted to impose the maximum fine of $25,000, but defence argued that would be devastating to Martinez, who is a recent immigrant from Cuba.
Tulloch said Martinez has held steady jobs since arriving in Iqaluit and regularly sends a portion of his earnings home to his family.
He has no criminal record, and quickly found new employment after being fired from his job driving taxi in the wake of his arrest.
Tulloch said the amount of liquor he had was an aggravating factor, as well as the nature of his crime.
“Bootlegging is a serious matter that causes a lot of suffering on many fronts in this territory,” stated Tulloch in her sentence.
“As I have already indicated, the elevated cost takes much needed money away from families, particularly in cases where one or more members of the family cannot live without it.”
Tulloch landed on a $10,000 fine and allowed the $5,270 seized by the police to be applied to that total. Martinez is left with a balance of $4,730.
Martinez took the opportunity to apologize before his sentence was handed down.
“I feel really, really ashamed to be in the news and the court right now,” he said.
“I really regret what I did and am really, really sorry.”
Martinez has 18 months to pay the fine.
Tulloch ended her sentence by accepting the apology.
“I sincerely hope that you have learned your lesson, but more importantly that you have a much better understanding of how wrong your actions were,” she said. “I accept your remorse and hope that I never see you in court again.”