Boats, cars, couriers: Drugs arrive at Cape Breton in several ways, police say

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This story is part of a series by CBC Cape Breton investigating street drug use on the island. Click here to read more stories in this series.

Cocaine packed by courier or in luggage. Packages that were secretly thrown into the sea and dragged ashore by fishing boats with coordinates.

Cape Breton Regional Police say cocaine arrives on the island in a number of ways.

“Like the movie Planes, trains and cars“You know, there are several ways to get here because we are an island,” said Const. John Campbell, who worked in the department’s street crime division for four years.

“We see pure cocaine, if it is imported to the island and then passed on to the various levels of trade, then it is cut accordingly.”

A look at Cape Breton’s drug trafficking history reveals that smugglers are active on the island, best known for its rugged beauty, expansive coastline, and mountain views.

In Campbell’s opinion, the most common way of transporting drugs is to have them drive from Halifax to Sydney.

Cape Breton Regional Police last June seized $ 200,000 worth of drugs, including pure cocaine and prescription pills, from two Sydney residential buildings. (Submitted by Cape Breton Regional Police)

In addition, Marine Atlantic ferries carry approximately 300,000 passengers between North Sydney, NS and Newfoundland each year.

“If you look at Marine Atlantic and all these summer RVs and tractor trailers and containers and everything, it would be naive to think that there is no contraband in any amount, be it tobacco, cocaine, marijuana, firearms.” said Campbell.

The history of the seizures on the island

Major cocaine seizures have been reported in Cape Breton over the past 20 years, including in the summer of 2004 when police found the $ 10 million stimulant hidden on a ship in Sydney Harbor.

In 2010, police found $ 1.4 million worth of cocaine in a Winnipeg man’s backpack while attempting to board a Marine Atlantic ferry in North Sydney.

At the time, the local police reported the bust as the largest in the history of their department. That same year, the first organized crime charge was brought in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, with 16 people charged with being part of an elaborate drug ring.

A car whizzes past a sign showing motorists how to get to the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in North Sydney. (Erin Pottie / CBC)

Another ferry service-related case dates back to 2016, when security officials allegedly discovered two kilograms of cocaine in a passenger’s suitcase at North Sydney Ferry Terminal after it was selected for a random inspection.

A Nova Scotia judge later ruled that the search violated the Ontario man’s charter rights, probably unaware that he could have refused the search. Drug abuse charges against the man were later dropped.

A year later, in 2017, the Nova Scotia RCMP announced the results of an international investigation that began in Cape Breton known as Operation Halfpenny.

The nearly two-year investigation uncovered a conspiracy to import over a ton of cocaine from Colombia to Canada. Three Cape Breton men were charged with trafficking in human beings, with RCMP saying the cocaine was for roads in Nova Scotia and provinces across Canada.

Small ports an attractive choice

When it comes to importing cocaine, small ports like North Sydney could be an attractive choice.

“Atlantic Canada isn’t exactly a big market for drugs, but it’s an important entry point or channel for cocaine coming from Colombia or Mexico,” said Stephen Schneider, a criminologist at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.

Schneider, who has been researching organized crime since the late 1980s, said that large amounts of cocaine arrive in Canada by two routes, either via land access points along the US-Canada border or via seaports and sea container transport.

Sea ferries, in particular, are an easy place to avoid law enforcement and checks, Schneider said.

Stephen Schneider is Associate Professor of Criminology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. (Photo submitted)

“In any case, the bad guys are always looking for ways to bypass enforcement and avoid large sea container ports or use sea ferries as a way to get around this,” he said.

“There’s a lot less security on board Marine Atlantic ferries or other ferries.”

CBC News sent interview requests to Marine Atlantic and Transport Canada, who oversee their safety regulations, and both requests were denied.

Marine Atlantic spokesman Darrell Mercer made a statement saying the Crown company is conducting random checks on its terminals.

Mercer said any problems related to illegal activity “will be referred to the appropriate authorities for follow-up and investigation”.

Forcing a losing battle

Schneider describes a David versus Goliath situation when asked to stop the flow of drugs to Canada.

“Enforcement is really a lost battle because we simply don’t have the resources to effectively screen, let alone detect drugs, every single shipping container that comes through a port.” [them],” he said.

“It’s really just a whack-a-mole. You can spend years and hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars trying to break up a big drug trafficking organization and then basically 10 others will show up in nowhere.”

Instead of focusing on stopping the drug trafficking, Schneider suggests that governments spend more money helping people.

“The best investment we can make to tackle street drugs is to reduce demand by increasing our healthcare resources and our mental health and substance abuse resources,” he said.

“We won a few battles, but in general we lost the war on drug trafficking and organized crime. And the real hope is to control it and minimize the damage. But even that is an extremely difficult thing. “

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