ECSTASY BUST TOUTED AS LARGEST EVER IN CANADA
Estimated $100m-Value: Toronto Homes And Storage Facilities Used In Manufacturing Network
MARKHAM, Ont. - Police have seized an estimated $100-million worth of Ecstasy and broken up a manufacturing operation that used a million-dollar home in suburban Toronto as a drug lab.
Seven men from British Columbia were charged with dozens of drug offences after police from York Region, north of Toronto, raided a Markham home and two north Toronto residences last week.
Police said more than 1,000 kilograms of liquid and powdered Ecstasy
-- the biggest bust of its kind in Canadian history -- were found at three homes and three storage facilities in Toronto.
An RCMP spokesman said yesterday that much powder and liquid could be used to make 10 million Ecstasy pills. In 2003, about 5.8 million pills were seized in Canada in the entire year.
Detective Don Cardwell of the York Regional Police said the suspects used each location to carry out a step in the process to manufacture Ecstasy, the slang term for the chemical compound methylene dioxy methamphetamine (MDMA).
In one home, he said the suspects would use widely available chemicals to create Ecstasy in its liquid form. In another, they would extract some solids to create a gas that could be further turned into powder.
The finished product was stored at the warehouses, along with the chemicals used in the initial process.
"They had the full circle basically operating from place to place,"
Det. Cardwell said.
One home, at which police said the suspects created the liquid drug, is on a street lined with large mansions on lots more than 200 feet wide.
The house next door to the alleged drug lab is listed for sale at an asking price of $1,930,000. It has six bedrooms and six bathrooms.
"When we pulled up with the police cars and the fire trucks, it was pretty shocking to the neighbours," Det. Cardwell said.
The detective said labs to create MDMA, which combines a strong stimulant with a hallucinogen, can be set up almost anywhere, using chemical products that can be purchased without restrictions at a variety of supply stores.
"The problem we have in Canada is that anyone can purchase the precursor chemicals that are used to make Ecstasy," he said. "In the United States, some of these things have restrictions on their sale, but not here."
Det. Cardwell would not discuss the chemicals used in this case, but many Internet sites offer Ecstasy recipes using things such as hydrogen peroxide, methyl alcohol and formic acid. None of the original elements is illegal.
"You can buy the lab stuff anywhere, at places like hardware stores,"
Det. Cardwell said. "All you need is someone who knows how to mix chemicals. These guys brought in a chemist from B.C."
Det. Cardwell said the investigation into these particular labs began on Dec. 6, after police were tipped to people making large purchases of the precursor chemicals.
"We conducted surveillance of these individuals over a two-week period, and tracked them to the three residences and a storage facility," he said.
Police executed four search warrants last week, and found documentation leading them to two more storage facilities, he said.
Det. Cardwell said the seized drugs were 96% pure, meaning they would have been diluted to produce a much larger of quantity of street Ecstasy.
"We're saying the value is $100-million, but that's a low estimate. It could easily be four or five times that depending on how much they diluted it."
The detective said drug manufacturers use ingredients such as aspirin, caffeine -- even Viagra -- to increase the number of Ecstasy pills created from a batch of pure powder.
"You never know what's in there," he said. "That's one of the reasons it can be so dangerous."
Police have found one of the ingredients often added to Ecstasy is DXM, a cough suppressant. Overdoses of DXM can cause heatstroke and death. Additives with hallucinogenic properties can also be part of the drug cocktail that creates Ecstasy pills, and police warn these ingredients can cause unexpected side effects such as elevated body temperature and even strokes.
An RCMP report issued in July said the demand for MDMA in Canada is increasing, and it is particularly popular among teenagers in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
The pills, and other synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and MDA, have long been popular with people seeking a boost from their stimulant properties.
"The unprecedented rise in illegal synthetic drug use is a direct by-product of raves [all-night dance parties] and the club drug scene," the report says. It also says the use of synthetic drugs is "expanding from these traditional areas to more mainstream use."
"I read something this morning that said Ecstasy use among high-school kids is going down, because they are scared of it now, but it's obviously going somewhere if we just seized 1,000 kilograms of it,"
Det. Cardwell said.
"These people are not welcome in Markham," said Don Cousens, Markham's Mayor. "We do not want to see them. And we will root them out and support the police and support our neighbourhoods to keep our communities wholesome and good. It is a good place to live and work and play and learn."
Before last week's arrests, the largest Ecstasy bust in Canada netted 250 kilograms in August, 2003.