Kingston man sentenced for drug, weapons offences in 2019 cocaine bust

A collection of the cocaine, ammunition, and firearms seized through Project Sparrow, a 2019 Kingston Police operation aimed at reducing cocaine trafficking in the City of Kingston. One of three men arrested as a result, Kevin Harpell, was recently sentenced for his involvement in the drug trafficking scheme, which included the possession and use of a large cache of weapons. Photo taken in 2019 by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

One of three men arrested and charged with over 45 drug trafficking and weapons related offences in a 2019 Kingston Police investigation has now been sentenced.

On March 4, 2019, Kingston Police announced the results of “Project Sparrow,” an investigation that began in January 2019 aimed at combatting the trafficking of cocaine in the City of Kingston. As the result of search warrants executed within the city on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, three men had been arrested and charged, police said at the time.

Arrested and charged as a result of Project Sparrow were Kevin John Harpell, 25; Angus William O’Neil, 21; and Carlos Gallardo-Rodriguez, 24 (ages given are those at the time of arrest). Harpell’s case was heard on February 28 and August 28 of this year, according to court documents, and his sentencing occurred on September 27, 2022 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Harpell pleaded guilty to nine charges, including four counts of trafficking cocaine. The court heard that, during Project Sparrow, Harpell sold cocaine to undercover officers on three occasions prior to being taken into custody in February 2019.

According to court documents, February 22, 2019 was the date the ‘bust’ took place:

“In the early hours of 22 February 2019, having agreed to supply the undercover operators with one kilogram of cocaine, you and Angus O’Neil travelled to a pre-arranged location in your vehicle.  The two of you met with the undercover operators and showed them a one kilogram brick of cocaine, which was concealed inside a duffel bag in the rear driver’s side seat of your vehicle.  You and Mr. O’Neil then proceeded into a nearby restaurant with the undercover operators to discuss payment for the cocaine.  A few minutes later you and Mr. O’Neil exited the restaurant, at which time you were both arrested by members of the Kingston Police Emergency Response Unit.”

While police found a brick containing 998.10 grams of cocaine in Harpell’s vehicle, they also located a cache of weapons, including a loaded “large calibre SKS assault rifle that was loaded.”

“Attached to the rifle was a large black drum magazine that contained 68 7.62 x 39 mm large calibre bullets,” Justice Graeme Mew stated, according to the transcripts of the court proceedings.

A search of Harpell’s residence thereafter resulted in the seizure of a number of weapons, including:

  • 20 firearms (“most if not all of which were unlicensed,” the judge noted)
  • Three crossbows
  • Tasers
  • A garrote
  • Brass knuckles
  • “Batman” cutting brass knuckles
  • Six throwing stars
  • 36 flick knives

“The charges to which you have pleaded guilty include possession of the blank drum magazine as well as possession of some of the other prohibited weapons, possession of an illegal magazine, and a charge relating to an offer which you had previously made to an undercover officer to transfer a shotgun to him,” Justice Mew outlined.

Noting that the charges against Harpell automatically mean he will submit a DNA sample and be subject to a 10-year weapons prohibition order, Justice Mew further explained the maximum sentences attached to the charges: trafficking charges each carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; three of the weapons-based charges carry a maximum 10-year sentence, as does the weapons trafficking charge; and the charge related to the SKS rifle carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

The court documents noted that counsel agreed that the appropriate sentencing range be from five to seven years of incarceration, with the Crown suggesting the sentence be more than five years due to the weapons charges.

The judge also noted the number of aggravating factors in the case: the fact Harpell had shown a loaded firearm to undercover officers, which he had said he brought to the drug deal as “insurance”; the fact Harpell’s motivation was financial gain; and the fact Harpell showed no concern for the harm done through the drugs he was trafficking.

Conversely, the judge noted that the most “significant mitigating factor” in the case was the fact Harpell had no criminal record. Justice Mew also pointed to Harpell’s guilty plea and the fact he was not the principal target of the investigation as further mitigating factors.

For the record, Justice Mew stated that it was, in fact, O’Neil who had been the primary target of Project Sparrow and that he was the person Harpell obtained the drugs from.

“As your counsel put it, you were mainly a ‘go-between.’ The initial transactions involved small amounts of cocaine which the undercover operatives bought from you in order to assist them in finding your supplier,” the documents state.

O’Neil was sentenced to five years for his offences, the court noted. However, he was not charged with any of the weapons-related charges that Harpell was, the court observed: “While it may well be that [O’ Neil’s] role in the chain of supply of illicit drugs was deeper than yours, there were no convictions registered against him for weapons offences.”

Justice Mew also noted Harpell’s status as an Indigenous person, an identity the defendant had been unable to engage with in his early years due to his father’s absence from his life. Since his arrest, Harpell has reportedly “matured,” Mew noted, and has begun learning more about his culture and identity.

“You have also supported your mother and neighbours and they, in turn, are very supportive of you. You also have a positive relationship with your current girlfriend,” the Justice stated.

Justice Mew ruled that Harpell be sentenced to a five-year sentence in a federal institution. While Harpell received sentences for 34 counts in total, those sentences will be served concurrently.

Harpell was credited with 183 days in pre-trial custody, with Justice Mew noting, “Although this time was served before the Covid-19 pandemic, I accept the submission made by Mr. Crowe that in all of the circumstances, you should receive credit against the sentence which I am about to impose of two days for each day of pre-trial custody served.”

As a result, Harpell was credited with 366 days on pre-trial custody served, which, “for the sake of expedience, will be rounded to one year. In other words, you will have four years of your sentence left to serve.”

“I would encourage you while incarcerated to take full advantage of such culturally-relevant Indigenous programmes as may be made available to you,” Justice Mew concluded.

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