Pubdate: Sat, 22 Aug 2015
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The London Free Press
Author: Emanuela Campanella
Page: D2


Poking deep into the U.S., and laced to it by six bridges,
Southwestern Ontario's charmed geography for trade makes it a
smuggler's alley for cocaine, more than two metric tonnes of which
were seized at its borders between 2007 - 2013. How much more gets in,
is anyone's guess. Emanuela Campanella reports.

On the police blotters of Southwestern Ontario cities - the records of
arrests made and charges laid - there's no question which illegal drug
commands the most time and attention.

It's marijuana, with arrests made and charges laid at rates that dwarf
those for all other drugs.

But don't be fooled: a fine white powder can be found on those same
police blotters. It's cocaine - and not just because that drug runs a
distant second to pot in the region's reported drug violations.

With some of North America's busiest border crossings, and geography
that pokes finger-like deep into the densely populated U.S.
mid-Atlantic and Midwest states, Southwestern Ontario is a major
cocaine corridor to Canada, a smuggler's alley for vast amounts of the
drug that blow through the region to markets in the nation's
heartland, often on a route that begins thousands of kilometres away
in Mexico.

Snow, dust, nose candy - the drug with many nicknames moves up the
area's Highway 401 spine to the rest of Canada, following the same
routes that make Southwestern Ontario a major gateway for legal trade.

"A lot of the drugs - particularly when we are referring to cocaine
coming through the border - do not remain in Southwestern Ontario, it
transits to other major urban centres," said Staff Sgt. Peter
Koersvelt of the RCMP in Windsor.

Three weeks ago in Windsor, on Koersvelt's turf, the busiest
Canada-U.S. border crossing, a 26-year-old Scarborough trucker was
charged after officials found 52 bricks of cocaine stuffed into three
duffel bags and a tote in a storage area of the truck.

But that seizure - 52 kilograms - is just the tip of the cocaine
iceberg, an analysis of drug seizures at Southwestern Ontario's border
crossing reveals.

While police-reported drug crimes in Windsor and London run more than
four times higher for pot than for cocaine, according to Statistics
Canada figures, down along the region's U.S. borders - from its remote
southwestern tip in Windsor, to the Niagara Peninsula - cocaine
dominates the illegal drug mountain.

An analysis of seven years of federal port-of-entry data, obtained
under a freedom of information request, shows Canadian border guards
seized cocaine worth $207 million on the street at the region's six
international bridges from 2007 to 2013, making it by far and away the
top drug smuggled in.

While the figures don't include the weight of cocaine seized, it
amounts to about 2,000 kilograms - that's two metric tonnes - if you
work it out backward from its street value of about $100 a gram.

That's enough cocaine to fill 5,000 cereal boxes - what Koersvelt
calls "a significant volume."

By comparison, marijuana seizures at the same Southwestern Ontario
bridges - Windsor's Ambassador Bridge, the Sarnia-area Blue Water
Bridge and the Niagara region's four bridges to New York state - raked
in only $8 million in pot over the same seven-year period.

Another 250 kilograms of cocaine - a stimulant that's commonly
snorted, inhaled or injected - has been seized since May 2014 at all
entry points to Southwestern Ontario, including airports, authorities

Any way you cut it, cocaine is the go-to drug for smugglers working
through the region.

Transport trucks - and thousands cross some of the region's
international spans daily, especially the Ambassador Bridge between
Windsor and Detroit - are the vehicle of choice for drug runners.

"These are criminal organizations that co-ordinate the importation of
drugs in this volume," Koersvelt said. "I have probably been
personally involved in about 15 major interdictions here since 2009 -
every one of those involved a commercial truck."

The busy Ambassador - its daily truck traffic averages 7,000 or more -
is the most vulnerable to smuggling on sheer traffic volume alone,
said Koersvelt.

"That (trucking) industry would be very vulnerable to being used to
smuggle anything, drugs or any sort of contraband into the border and
into Canada, because so many trucks come and go," he said.

"There's definitely a lot more (cocaine) that gets through

Once it makes it into Southwestern Ontario, with its easy access to
Toronto and densely populated southern Ontario, cocaine - and other
drugs - can quickly be moved across the country. Organized crime is
inevitably involved, said Western University criminologist Michael
Arntfield. "London has always been coveted territory for organized
crime groups," said the former London police officer. "It's in part
why it would be a soughtafter destination and distribution point for
traffickers. It's a jump-off point to huge markets."

Besides its lucrative value, cocaine is also easily divisible, another
potential draw for smugglers, said Paul Whitehead, another
criminologist at Western University.

"The amount of space required to try (to) hide the substance is
relatively small," he said, noting it can easily be hidden in
clandestine places fashioned in cars and trucks.

Drug-sniffing dogs and X-ray devices are among the weapons used at the
border to intercept the illegal flow of cocaine into the country. But
for all the cocaine being stopped by the Canada Border Services Agency
(CBSA) in Southwestern Ontario, how much gets in undetected is
anyone's guess.

The president of the union representing border officers says plenty
makes it over the border.

Budget cuts several years ago have strained the agency's resources,
leaving it with fewer agents and sniffer dogs in Southwestern Ontario,
said Pierre Fortin.




Southwestern Ontario border seizures, 2007-2013

$207 million: Street value of cocaine seized

$27 million: Value of vehicles and trailers seized

$7 million: Cash from suspected crimes seized

$8 million: Street value of marijuana seized

- --- --- ---


Where the Southwestern Ontario seizures took place:

Ambassador Bridge, Windsor Blue Water Bridge, Point Edward

Niagara Peninsula:

Lewiston-Queenston Bridge Whirlpool Bridge Rainbow Bridge Peace Bridge

- --- --- ---


Major cocaine seizures on the Canadian side of the Blue Water Bridge
near Sarnia


Authorities seize 31 bricks of cocaine, totalling 34 kilograms, from
the flatbed undercarriage of a truck entering the country April 4. A
32-year-old Quebec trucker is charged. The seizure boosts to 196 kilos
the total amount of cocaine intercepted by border service officers in
Sarnia in the previous year.


39 kilograms of cocaine found in a commercial vehicle intercepted on
inspection in November. Two Quebec residents charged.

More than 123 kilograms of suspected cocaine, worth an estimated $12.3
million, found in a wall panel of a pickup truck's cargo bed, divided
into 105 packages. Two men from Stoney Creek, Ont., charged.


Two Toronto-area men charged after 47 kilograms of cocaine, worth
nearly $6 million, seized in February from a transport truck carrying
medical supplies.


50 kilograms of cocaine, worth as much as $6.25 million, found hidden
in a tractor-trailer loaded with electronics. A 26-year-old Brampton
man is charged.


230 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $28.7 million found in
the cab of a transport truck in February, in the largest
border-crossing drug seizure in Canadian history to that point.


While cocaine dominates drug smuggling into Southwestern Ontario,
largely destined for markets elsewhere, it accounts for relatively far
fewer violations of drug laws within the region than does marijuana,
or cannabis. A breakdown of police-reported drug violations per
100,000 people:

London: Cannabis, 150; cocaine, 34; methamphetamines, 22; other, 63

Kitchener-Waterloo: Cannabis, 225; cocaine, 33; methamphetamines, 8; 
other, 50

Hamilton: Cannabis, 225; cocaine, 33; methamphetamines, 1; other, 34

Windsor: Cannabis, 116; cocaine, 27; methamphetamines, 3; other, 39

St. Catharines-Niagara: Cannabis, 119; cocaine, 33; methamphetamines, 4; 
other, 19

- --- --- ---


Toronto: Cannabis, 129; cocaine, 36; methamphetamines, 2; other, 24

Kingston: Cannabis, 82; cocaine, 33; methamphetamines, 21; other, 34

* Source: Statistics Canada, 2013

- --- --- ---


"This illegal drug trade brings violence and other associated crimes
into our communities and neighbourhoods."

- - RCMP Cpl. Randy Schertzer, Sarnia, 2015

Cocaine is an insidious drug that leaves community disaster in its

- - Superior Court Justice John Desotti, Sarnia, as he sentenced a
trucker last year who brought a kilogram of cocaine into Canada to
three years in prison.
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MAP posted-by: Matt