Canadians may think of illegal drug trafficking as a problem to pin on foreigners, but in the global trade in synthetic drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamines, Canada is one of the bad guys.
The United Nations’ World Drug Report for 2011 was released Thursday, and Canada does not come off well – which is no surprise to those working in drug enforcement.
“If you look at the size and magnitude of these illicit drug labs, we just don’t have the population and consumer base for this,” said Sergeant Brent Hill, commander of the RCMP’s chemical diversion unit in Milton, Ont. “This is for export and we know this. Do you really want to be a leading source country of illegal drugs?”
The annual UN drug report singles out Canada as a leading exporter of meth to the United States, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Jamaica.
In addition, “the resurgence” of ecstasy use south of the border “was fuelled by the manufacture [of ecstasy] in Canada and subsequent smuggling,” according to the report which is based on global police, government and health records.
“For years we have pointed the finger at Colombia and Afghanistan,” said Thomas Pietschmann, of the threat analysis section of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. “But the same kind of standard should apply to Western countries like Canada.”
The UN report says Canadian authorities busted a dozen ecstasy labs and 23 meth labs in 2009 – the latest year for which statistics are available – and seized close to half a metric ton of ecstasy.
Canada is seen as having lax control over the import and domestic trade of precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine. Combined with proximity to the huge U.S. market and easy access to well-established smuggling routes to Asia and Australia, that makes for a profitable nexus of crime.
Superintendent Brian Cantera, who heads the RCMP’s drug squad in B.C., said organized crime groups in Canada with “familial ties” to India and China can bring in huge quantities of these chemicals needed to “cook” the synthetic drugs in underground laboratories set up across Canada.
“The potential for these drugs is so great, it allows them to purchase cocaine with the profits,” he said, in effect creating a vicious circle between the forms of drugs.
And unlike the small “stove-top” meth operations that are typical in the U.S., “the labs we find here in Canada are large-scale productions, using very sophisticated equipment,” said Sergeant Doug Culver, who heads the RCMP’s synthetic drug initiative in Ottawa.
The transformation of Canada from a drug-importing country to a major export centre also poses new challenges to police, traditionally focused on uncovering huge shipments of illicit cargoes into the country or tracking domestic sales.
“The biggest difference is now we’re the source country. That changes the dynamics tenfold,” said Sgt. Hill. “We need a new game plan here. We need to start configuring a new strategy that says: Not acceptable. Not in our backyard. Not in our country.”
Canada has begun take action to clean up the synthetic drug trade – and its reputation. On Thursday, a new law came into force making it illegal to possess the chemicals and equipment that could be used to make these drugs.
Supt. Cantera said he hopes the UN report will prompt Canada to take even stronger action. “I think we all share that black eye,” he said. “Nobody enjoys that kind of notoriety.”
Jun. 23, 2011