His arrest may not have grabbed headlines but drug dealers in Toronto understand what it means.
“Motaz Haj, 27, of Toronto, was charged with manslaughter,” Toronto Police announced Friday.
He’s not accused of shooting, stabbing or physically assaulting his female victim. He is accused of selling the woman the illegal drugs that killed her.
The victim was 27-year-old Hilary Ann Retzer who on Dec. 11, 2019, was found dead in her east-end home.
“A post-mortem examination determined the cause of death to be acute fentanyl overdose,” said Toronto Police.
She was a mom of a toddler and the precious daughter of a loving Toronto family and another statistic of the evils of drug use — specifically fentanyl.
Toronto Police didn’t walk away.
Officers from 43 Division and later, the drug squad, got the investigation rolling. Soon after, Det. Keri Fernandes, of the force’s homicide squad, was brought in.
The hunt was on. The goal was to determine who sold her this deadly narcotic?
Four months later, police alleged that dealer was Haj, who appeared in Scarborough court April 14. The allegations have not been tested in court and he is considered innocent unless proven guilty.
“The guy being charged is good,” said Steve Smith, who lost his 22-year-old daughter to a drug overdose three years ago.
He said that after an overdose death, drug dealers move on to their next sale — unnerved and unscathed from the carnage left behind.
Smith has been pushing for consequences for pushers who share responsibility for these deaths. Police are now laying charges if they can prove the source of a narcotic which causes a fatal overdose.
While Canada’s businesses have been shut to fight the pandemic, drug dealing continues and so do overdoses. Smith said much of the crime reported now is the result of people needing cash for a fix.
One loophole Smith has complained about is how drugs are sent directly to users through the mail and are picked up from postal boxes at pharmacies or post offices — measures which protect dealers from capture.
“It’s a crisis within a crisis,” he said.
While the drug is certainly deadly, the response to Canada’s fentanyl crisis has not been as robust as it was for the coronavirus.
“The opioid crisis is only getting worse and actually is killing more Canadians than COVID-19 but gets a lot less attention,” said Smith.
While he’s pleased police are going after dealers when there’s a fatal overdose, Smith said it’s not the cure for the problem. He’s aware of two other cases in Ontario where manslaughter charges were reduced in plea deals and the dealers never faced serious jail time.
“It’s frustrating for law enforcement because they work so hard to make an arrest and then the courts give out minimal sentences,” said Smith. “Even small-time dealers make a lot of money.”
In his daughter’s case, no arrest has yet been made: “It’s still an open case.”
He remains hopeful as he pursues justice in his daughter’s death and works to protect the next kid from the same fate.
“The hardest part for police is the chain of evidence. They may suspect someone but can’t prove the drugs came from them.”
And there is another problem: “Usually the only witness is dead.”
In Retzer’s death, Smith hopes the arrest will garner enough interest to stop one kid from taking drugs or one dealer from selling them.
He won’t hold his breath.
“Remember, there’s more fentanyl coming in the mail.”