Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2008
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Project Mercury, the lengthy police investigation into what law 
enforcement officials say was a major drug trafficking operation 
operated by an organized crime group, is proof that the scourge of 
street drugs -- once limited to murky alleyways and rock star 
dressing rooms -- isn't going away any time soon and has become more 
mainstream, say members of the Niagara police services board.

In her regular report to board members Sept. 25, Police Chief Wendy 
Southall said no less than $20 million worth of marijuana and 
equipment has been seized so far in illegal grow-op raids in Niagara this year.

A day earlier -- shortly after Niagara this Week called the NRP to 
ask about the police raid of a house on Westland Street in St. 
Catharines -- the NRP and various other police agencies that have 
worked together on Project Mercury for the past nine months unveiled 
a cache of weapons, street drugs and about $830,000 in cash seized so 
far as part of the ongoing investigation.

The house on Westland was one of three homes raided in Niagara in 
recent months, including one in Welland and one in Thorold.

So far, 16 people from Niagara have been charged with numerous 
offences such as possession of prohibited firearms, unlawful 
possession of explosives, conspiracy to traffic cocaine and 
participating in a criminal organization.

Southall said the probe, which included seizing numerous vehicles, is 
part of a strategy by police to hit organized crime where it really 
hurts -- by seizing their assets and selling them off as being from 
the proceeds of crime.

The money from selling off those assets can then be redirected back 
into enhanced law enforcement efforts.

Police board member Mal Woodhouse said the large-scale drug busts 
point to a much larger problem.

"(It's) the impact of drugs on our society," he said. "I liken it to 
the Black Plague.

"It's really tragic what's happening out there."

Fellow board member Bill Smeaton, a regional councillor from Niagara 
Falls, said compounding the problem is that street drugs are no 
longer just used by junkies, hippies and rock stars. Today, they've 
gone mainstream.

"Doctors, lawyers, teachers and college professors are using them," 
he said. "Everybody's using it for entertainment.

"Every sector of society is using these drugs."
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