CRIME

Tracking the dealers

Canada adds new zeal to its drug enforcement

GLEN ALLEN September 3 1990
CRIME

Tracking the dealers

Canada adds new zeal to its drug enforcement

GLEN ALLEN September 3 1990

Tracking the dealers

CRIME

Canada adds new zeal to its drug enforcement

For members of the RCMP drug squad, the script was almost perfect. In the early morning hours of July 31 off the coast of Cape Breton, the Canadian destroyer Nipigon and the coast guard cutter Mary Hichens manoeuvred towards a 65-foot fishing trawler. Onshore, 20 vehicles carrying RCMP officers and tracker dogs converged on the tiny village of Baleine, N.S., 50 km southeast of Sydney. And by 2 a.m., police sprang the trap. They snared nearly 20 smugglers and 27 tons of hashish. It was the second large-scale seizure in the area in just over two months. The two hauls, which netted hashish with an estimated street value of $700 million, served as notice that, despite increased police pressure and civilian awareness, drug traders were prepared to keep on using the rugged Nova Scotia coast as a staging point for transshipping illegal drugs to other parts of North America. But the latest arrests, said Sgt. Gary Grant of the RCMP, showed that “we are getting pretty good at this game” of intercepting drugs.

In fact, the battle between police and smugglers using Nova Scotia as a drop-off point for their illicit cargoes has been going on since the early 1970s. Between 1974 and 1986, police recorded 12 major seizures, including boatloads of hashish and marijuana. But from the

October, 1986, interception of 17.4 tons of hashish in Chéticamp, N.S., until this summer, the smugglers had been winning the war. Said Cpl. William Parker of the RCMP’s Halifaxbased drug enforcement squad: “We had a drought of about four years.” Police say it ended partly because of an RCMP program called Coastal Watch, under which police encourage Nova Scotian civilians to contact them when they become aware of suspicious activities in coastal communities.

Launched in the mid1970s but expanded in 1987, the Coastal Watch program’s first major success occurred last May, when police found 35 tons of hashish, the largest drug seizure in Canadian history, at Puddle Pan Cove near the south-shore community of East Berlin, 140 km southwest of Halifax. Police said that they were tipped off by a lobster fisherman who was tending his traps in the morning fog and reported seeing unfamiliar vessels. “That amount of drugs landing in one province is enormous,”

said Dalhousie University criminologist Christopher Murphy. Added Murphy: “There is a new zeal to drug enforcement in Canada that we have picked up from the United States.” That zeal is not misplaced in Canada’s most populous East Coast province. With 4,625 miles of often sparsely populated coastline that is indented with innumerable bays and coves, Nova Scotia provides a haven that is almost ideal for smugglers. As well, the province has become increasingly attractive since a crackdown on offshore drug imports began to curtail landings on the U.S. mainland in the early years of former president Ronald Reagan’s administration. Police officials say that, when smugglers succeed in getting illegal drugs into Canada, the drugs can be moved across the international border with relative ease. Not every border crossing is guarded, and the RCMP 0 says border officials would be hard-pressed to o search every truck crossing into the United 2 States. Said the RCMP’s Parker: “Going north g to south is not as suspect a route as is south to z north.” He added: “Once it’s on land, it can be S split into three or four trucks and it goes here, there and everywhere. Chances of the authorities apprehending it are minimal.”

According to Parker, police intelligence suggests that, in a single year, there may be as many as 30 attempts to land drugs in Nova Scotia. But because of bad weather and other adverse circumstances, including police surveillance, many never succeed. Said Parker: “Ultimately, we’re being used as a landing point for all of North America.” Across Canada, enforcement agencies estimate that police intercept about 10 per cent of all illegally imported drugs.

Police say that drug-smuggling attempts usually involve a “mother ship,” a cargo vessel lying up to 250 miles offshore. It off-loads hashish, marijuana and sometimes cocaine onto smaller fishing vessels that members of drug rings may have purchased locally. During the July 31 police interception, which authorities had been planning for she months, three smuggling ships were involved. A larger vessel, which police did not catch, brought the hashish from the source country, possibly Pakistan. Smugglers then transferred the cargo to a 65foot trawler called the Scotian Maid, which had been purchased in June for about $200,000 from a fisherman in Newfoundland. Police said that the Scotian Maid left Newfoundland on July 16. It is thought to have met the mother ship shortly thereafter. Because the Scotian Maid was too big for the tiny wharf at Baleine—a village with a population of only 16—where the cargo was to be delivered, the smugglers had to transfer the hashish to a third vessel, the 35-foot trawler False Bay.

In its carefully planned, three-pronged operation, police swooped down on the smugglers who were waiting

in Baleine and arrested 11 suspects. Four hours later, other officers arrested two men aboard the Scotian Maid at sea. And police near Joliette, Que., 60 km north of Montreal, arrested two more suspects in an 18-wheel tractortrailer rig that had left Baleine the previous day carrying smuggled drugs.

Meanwhile, police say that the origins of the smugglers appear to be changing. RCMP officers said that, while many earlier operations appeared to have been choreographed by Americans, Canadian smugglers have been involved in more recent landings. Indeed, police said seven of the men now facing charges of possession of hashish for the purposes of traf-

ficking and conspiracy to traffic in a narcotic following the arrests in Baleine were residents of Quebec. Six were from New Brunswick; the others were from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Parker said there is some evidence that Canadians from the West Coast have also been involved in East Coast drug-smuggling operations that net them millions of dollars in illegal profits. The police do not expect the smugglers to lessen their activity. Said Grant: “As the net tightens, they are going to find more and more innovative ways to bring drugs in.”

Parker, who is in charge of organizing the Coastal Watch program, says that Nova Scotia civilian volunteers will be increasingly impor-

tant in the future. He added, “These people are our eyes and ears around the coastline.” On Parker’s office wall is a map of Nova Scotia with clusters of pins showing the locations of 2,000 informants involved in banking, real estate, ship repairs and sales, as well as fishermen. Their names are kept confidential, but Parker said that each person has a local RCMP contact. Declared Parker: “We are asking them to be more aware in the course of their everyday life.”

Police say that, so far, there have been no protests against the establishment of what is, in effect, a citizen spy corps. Said Dalhousie’s Murphy: “It doesn’t bother me. By and large, the police are heavily dependent on ordinary citizens in one way or another.” Parker said there have been occasions when informants have been paid, depending on the value of the information obtained.

Still, many drug smugglers are adept at circumventing community curiosity, often winning acceptance among locals so effectively that they are no longer considered outsiders. Police said that, to prepare for one drug-smuggling operation, a group of criminals based in Florida bought a Nova Scotia fishing vessel and used it for fishing until longtime residents took for granted its presence in the vicinity of Lockeport, 200 km southwest of Halifax. Parker said the vessel was “running in and out for two to three months.” He added: “Then, it went out on its fishing trip and, instead of bringing back fish, it had hashish. It blended in with the normal working pattern for that boat in that community.” But a police agent infiltrated the smugglers’ organization, leading to six arrests in May, 1985, and the confiscation of 13.2 tons of hashish, which had been transferred from a mother ship to the fishing boat and landed at a I wharf near Lockeport.

But no matter how refined police _ techniques become, police and drug ^ experts agree that interception alone s will not significantly reduce the flow of illegal narcotics into Nova Scotia. Said Richard Garlick, director of communications with the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse: “Police efforts are necessary. There is no point in opening the door to importers. But no matter what you do, stuff is going to get in until you address the reasons why people want drugs.” He added: “One way or another, people are determined to get high. At best, enforcement campaigns keep it at bay.” But until education and persuasion change public attitudes, police and their civilian eyes and ears around the rambling coast of a province favored by drug importers are clearly prepared to maintain their watch.

GLEN ALLEN