COVER

FRUSTRATIONS IN THE DRUG WAR

RAE CORELLI,KEN McQUEEN,DOUG SMITH,1 more... September 29 1986
COVER

FRUSTRATIONS IN THE DRUG WAR

RAE CORELLI,KEN McQUEEN,DOUG SMITH,1 more... September 29 1986

FRUSTRATIONS IN THE DRUG WAR

COVER

In a Canadian National freight terminal in Montreal last July 21, Customs agents were examining documents covering shipments from overseas when they became suspicious of a metal-shredding machine from Bombay. Metal-shredders are not ordinarily imported from India. The agents looked into the background of the importing firm and discovered that the company existed in name only. Then, when one of the officials found a freshly welded seam on the side of the shredder, he got a metal saw and a blowtorch and cut a hole. Inside were

740 lb.of hashish worth, Customs estimated, about $4.5 million on the street. They handed the case over to the RCMP, which has yet to make an arrest.

Devious: Every month across Canada, law enforcement agencies are testing their police skills against the devious imaginations of illicit drug traffickers. The illegal drug trade, according to the RCMP’S latest calculations, was worth $10 billion in 1984—a figure equalling Canada’s total exports to Europe that year. Clearly, the authorities are losing their war against those who deal on a global scale in co-

caine, heroin, marijuana and hashish. The principal reasons: not enough manpower or money, the vast wealth and growing ingenuity of the traffickers and a country known around the world as being easy to enter. Said Sgt. ! James Shannon of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department’s 90-member drug squad: “It’s like taking a fly swatter to a bee’s nest. It wouldn’t be realistic if I said we were ever going to catch up.” Added Staff Sgt. Gilles Veilleux, senior investigator on the RCMP’s Montreal narcotics squad: “We know we are hitting the traffickers hard when the prices of drugs start rising. Right now, the prices are going down.”

Fighting the traffickers often leads to arrests—but even they frequently yield just another dead end for the investigators. Last Jan. 9, Azar Mian boarded KLM flight 814 in Lahore, Pakistan, and flew to Amsterdam, where Customs officers at Schipol airport detected nearly seven pounds of heroin in his brown, soft-sided suitcase. They didn’t confront Mian, who soon boarded KLM Flight 691 for Toronto. But they notified Canadian officials at The Hague and they, in turn, tipped off the RCMP. At Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Customs officials intercepted Mian’s suitcase before it reached the luggage carousel and substituted cocoa for the heroin. The bespectacled 49-year-old Pakistani, dapper in sports jacket and slacks, was cleared through Customs. Then the RCMP followed him to an apartment building, where they arrested him in the lobby. They found an additional seven pounds of heroin in a carry-on ! bag. Mian now is serving 17 years. But he never confessed, and police still do not know the source of the heroin or where it was headed.

Jail: Mian was convicted under Section 5 of the federal Narcotic Control Act, which prescribes a minimum sentence of seven years and a maximum of life in jail for importing or exporting illicit drugs. Narcotics trafficking within the country is also punishable by a maximum life sentence. But now there is growing support for a proposed law that is even tougher. That legislation would empower the courts to seize all the assets acquired by a convicted trafficker with proceeds from illicit drug transactions—not just the money made from selling drugs. Richard Mosley, general counsel in charge of the federal justice department’s criminal law policy and amendments section in Ottawa, said in an interview that the absence of such legislation is “a major impediment” to the war on drugs. And Insp. Ray Singbeil of the RCMP’s drug intelligence and field operations division in Vancouver

said, “If you could take away their toys, that would devastate them as much as long prison terms.”

Still, police may seize a trafficker’s drugs. Indeed, the number of drug seizures across the country has soared—although according to Statistics Canada the number of people charged with drugrelated offences dropped to 57,645 in 1985 from 75,104 in 1981. A senior Ontario police official told Maclean’s that there was probably one main explanation for the drop: police are concentrating on traffickers rather than casual users, which has meant fewer arrests.

Seized: Canada Customs, which created a 100-member drug unit in 1984 and assigned its members to ports of entry across the country, released a report last week which put a street value of $334 million on the drugs seized between January and June of this year.

The total for all of 1985 was $244 million and for 1984,

$100 million. Vincent Castonguay, the 44-year-old director of the interdiction and intelligence division for Canada Customs in Ottawa, said the seizures were made by customs officers poking through “filthy containers, piles of dirty laundry, shipments of fruit and meat and crawling around the holds of ships.” Castonguay said that the figures likely reflected “better international co-operation, better detection and improved cooperation among Canadian agencies” rather than an increase in the volume of drugs entering Canada.

In the war on narcotics, detection is the key, and law enforcement agencies across the nation say the ways of trying to avoid it are endlessly ingenious.

Smugglers from Jamaica hollow out coconuts, put the drugs in plastic bags, refill the coconut with water and stick it back together. Police and customs officers once directed their suspicions at 18-to-35-year-olds, so the traffickers have switched to 50year-olds. Cyril Pollitt, chief of air operations for Customs and Excise at Winnipeg International Airport, said carriers have even been found with drugs in rectal plugs.

Others have swallowed condoms

filled with drugs. Said Pollitt, on the way to handle such suspects: “You take them into an interrogation room and do a lot of paperwork. And wait.” In June a 26-year-old Burnaby, B.C., man returned from a trip abroad and attempted to cut open his stomach with

a knife in his bathroom at home. He was trying to remove 31 condoms that he had swallowed containing 2 ¥2 lb. of cocaine. In an effort to get drugs past dogs trained to sniff them out, smugglers wrap them in mothballs. The dogs cannot smell -the drugs, but Customs agents can smell the mothballs. Said Murray Uren, head of the Cus-

toms service’s 25-member drug unit in Toronto: “We’re dealing with everything the human imagination can come up with.”

Prey: Not all couriers are members of organized rings. Sgt. Yves Roy, an RCMP narcotics agent in St-Jerôme, Que., said dealers often prey on ignorance or poverty. One organization sent a small group of welfare recipients from Quebec’s Gatineau region on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Caribbean early this year. The catch: they each had to bring back several pounds of hashish strapped to their bodies. They were all caught at Mirabel airport north of Montreal.

In some cases innocent people become involved. In midAugust an elderly couple in Flin Flon, Man., received a heavy lamp from the Philippines. Puzzled, they called the RCMP, who found more than six pounds of hashish worth more than $65,000 inside. Investigation disclosed that the lamp had been left unclaimed at the post office until postal officials decided to deliver it to the couple because they had the same surname as the one on the package.

Game: But undelivered drug shipments seldom fall into the laps of police. They are the prize in a cat-and-mouse game with imaginative traffickers. Toronto Staff Sgt. Lawrence Hovey said that large drug rings are often as well equipped as the police. Said Hovey: “We do surveillance on them and they do surveillance on us. We follow a guy with five or six cars and they will have five or six guys following us.” However, traffickers will likely have trouble matching the latest technique. The RCMP’s Insp. Ray Singbeil says the force has begun using devices that, “attached to people or vehicles, can keep track of their movements.” But for Singbeil and drug investigators across the country, the trick is to find the people to plant the devices on.

-RAE CORELLI with DAN BURKE in Montreal, ALISON HARE and KEN McQUEEN in Ottawa, DAVID TODD in Toronto, DOUG SMITH in Winnipeg, KERRY DIOTTE in Edmonton and GREG FJETLAND in Vancouver

RAE CORELLI

DAN BURKE

ALISON HARE

KEN McQUEEN

DAVID TODD

DOUG SMITH

KERRY DIOTTE

GREG FJETLAND