Vaughan Citizen, Saturday, Friday July 24, 2009
By: Christie Blatchford
Police Zero In On Drug Rings
A Vaughan man, accused of drug smuggling, is the third York Region resident this month to be arrested by federal authorities.
Last week, the 10-month probe, called Project OFLYER, that included an airport drug task force, police and border officers, culminated in several arrests.
Police broke up a drug smuggling ring run by a criminal organization that used Pearson International Airport to import cocaine into Canada and arrested several people, including a 26-year-old Woodbridge resident.
The Woodbridge man was charged with criminal and drug offences, but wouldn’t clarify what role he played in the scheme.
A 39-year-old Brampton man was identified as the boss of the organization, that used couriers, or ‘mules’, to move cocaine hidden in toiletry bottles into Canada from South America.
“This project is an excellent example of how an integrated approach among police agencies and Canada Border Services Agency can effectively thwart organized crime’s efforts to use our international airports as a conduit for illegal drugs,” Supt. Ron Allen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Greater Toronto Drug Section said.
“Stopping the flow of illicit drugs as they enter Canada is an important step in making our communities safer.”
Along with the Vaughan man, residents of Toronto, Ajax, Cambridge, Barrie and Mississauga ranging in age from 23 to 41 were also charged.
Canada is rarely the final destination for drugs brought into this country by organized dope runners, lawyer Edward Prutschi said. He has represented Americans, South Americans and Australians accused in smuggling rings.
Often, criminals see Canada as a place from which to drive drugs into the United States.
“There is no question demand is not drying up,” Mr. Prutschi said. “We’ve had very little success attacking the demand side.”
Trumpeting investigative successes is one way to send a message to the people pulling the strings that the authorities are making it more difficult to recruit mules. It also sends a message to paid drug carriers that there will be significant consequences connected if they are caught, he added.
Prosecutions have been reasonably successful, he said, adding accused often plead out or are found guilty.
Those arrested are often small-time drug pushers and drug users, Mr. Prutschi said. The ring leaders are more difficult to track down.
“Often, those people are not even in Canada,” he said.
There has been political action taken as well.
Amendments to the Customs Act will help combat airport smuggling and security risks, federal Public Safety minister and York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan said last month.
The changes allow officers to conduct searches within custom controlled areas, including airport terminals. The objective, the government says, is to combat organized crime and provide increased security against terrorist activity.
“These changes provide the additional information, tools and flexibility required to help identify threats and prevent criminal activity, all while ensuring legitimate flow of goods and travellers across our borders,” Mr. Van Loan said.
Earlier this month, the RCMP announced the arrests of two Richmond Hill men and a Toronto man which it identified as the “key players” in a hashish and opium smuggling ring.
Greater Toronto RCMP drug officers worked with border officers and ports enforcement teams in Halifax and Montreal for four months, which investigators called Project ONEG.
In May, border officers in Halifax found 212 kilograms ( about 467 pounds ) of hashish hidden in a shipping container, according to police. A probe lead to the seizure of 72 more kilograms ( about 159 pounds ) of hashish and 29 kilograms ( about 64 pounds ) of opium worth more than $3 million, police said.
The group used sophisticated techniques to hide the drugs, which were imported from the middle east through other countries into Canada, police said. The group used legitimate importers in an attempt to mask their identity, according to police.
Police said they found 15 handguns, 15 rifles and $200,000 during the investigation.
“The success of this investigation is another step forward in our fight against organized crime groups whose activities have a negative effect on the heath and well-being of our communities,” Supt. Allen said.
Two Richmond Hill men, aged 48 and 43, and a 51-year-old Toronto man are charged with criminal and drug offences for importing the drugs into Canada.
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