Pubdate: Thu, 18 Sep 2014
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: Leslie Anthony
Page: 27


In the 1980s and '90s, a lucrative and well-organized drug-smuggling
network spanning Mexico, the U.S. and Canada had northern beachheads
in a handful of small farming towns in southwestern Ontario and
southern Manitoba. These communities were also home to tens of
thousands of Old Colony Mennonites, a deeply conservative branches of
one of Christianity's most traditional sects - similar to other
pacifist and agrarian-based societies like the Amish or Hutterites.
Ironic then, that it turned out they were the drug smugglers.

According to a more than decade-old feature in the now defunct
Saturday Night magazine, authorities first descended into this
byzantine world on American Thanksgiving, 1989, when sniffer dogs
discovered 116 kilos of pot in the false bottoms of a few couches
being schlepped from Mexico to Winkler, Manitoba, in a dilapidated
pickup by Cornelius Banman, a Mennonite grandfather who'd made the
long, tedious journey - supposedly to deliver Mennonite-made furniture
- - many times. His arrest turned out to be the tip of the spear.

Sometime in the 1980s, as Mexican drug cartels were busy building
alliances with a range of other criminal syndicates, they'd discovered
a handy, skilled, practical-minded partner right under their noses.
"The Mennonites possessed an intimate knowledge of Mexico's northern
frontier... and their cloistered, tight-knit families could be counted
upon to practice their own peculiar, generations-old brand of omerta
or code of silence. Also, their dual citizenship was an invaluable
Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, allowing them to skip to Mexico... if they
were fortunate enough to be released on bail by sympathetic American
or Canadian judges."

Despite the fact that by 1993 over 100 Mexican-Mennonite mules had
been caught smuggling weed, weapons and prescription opiates into
Canada and the U.S., business was booming and growing fast. The
arrests kept coming, and they kept getting bigger: in 1995, a
Mexican-Mennonite was arrested at the U.S. border in El Paso when the
modified underside of his tractor-trailer yielded 290 kilos of pot
worth more than $3.5 million. By the late-1990s, some 20 per cent of
all marijuana smuggled into Canada (about 750 kilos/month) could be
traced to Mennonite drug barons in Mexico. The tide began to ebb with
the burgeoning "B.C. bud" trade and Canada's nationwide indoor pot
industry, but no so much in the U.S., where 500 tons is regularly
seized at the Mexican border - over 100 times that coming into Canada.

Back in the day, Mexican weed (sold on the street in Canada and the
U.S. at a 600 per cent markup) was always in high demand. To smuggle
it efficiently, the mechanically crafty Mennonites pressed it into
"bricks." As a young college student during the late 1970s - 80s in
Waterloo, Ontario, I can attest to the ubiquity of these bricks in the
local marijuana trade - and that most of the weed sold around campus
was marketed as Mexican. What students didn't know was that the
Mennonites we bought our vegetables, apple pies and German sausage
from at nearby farmer's markets, were also selling us our pot at arm's
length. I'd always wondered why there seemed such a marked class
difference among local Mennonites - those whose strict observances saw
them driving black buggies along the street outside our house en route
to sell their produce and baking downtown, versus those we saw driving
low-riding Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals (painted flat black,
even over the chrome), East L.! A.-style, around the rural
countryside. The things you learn.

Since the millennium, cocaine and meth have become the drugs of choice
for the Mennonite mafia, the higher profits (800 - 1,000 per cent
markups) bringing with them the requisite dangers and concomitant
increase in violence (see any episode of AMC's epic TV drama Breaking
Bad for a refresher). Growing Mennonite partnerships with biker gangs
have seen their mutual enemies (and often themselves) murdered or
vanishing under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately for the drug
kingpins, they can no longer count on universal community secrecy, as
shown by this comment on the 2012 blog post of a crime reporter and
book author who investigated the Mennonite-Cartel connection.

"I lived in a big Mennonite community (and) we all knew what happens
inside the community but we had to respect (the) code of silence. In
all my life I have never seen so much cash money, coming from nowhere
but if you comment on anything they would make your life miserable. I
know one man in particular who became (a) millionaire in just 4 years."

Along with cities like Juarez, the once pastoral Mennonite colonies in
northern Mexico have morphed into a kind of Cartel-hell with
drug-related murders, crack houses, open drunkenness, and requisite
rehab centres. A journalist reporting on the story in Mexico observed,
"young Mennonite thugs flaunting gold rings and designer clothes and
driving expensive, brand-new trucks spill(ing) into the parking lot of
a Mennonite church." With RCMP making increasingly bigger cocaine
busts on the Prairies and acknowledging that the Mexican cartels are
indeed operating in Canada, how long will it be until you see this
coming to a devout, church-going Mennonite town near you?

(This is part two of Leslie's columns on the underbelly of Mennonite
life. Find part one in Pique Sept. 11.)
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MAP posted-by: Matt