Canada is Colombia North

Sixty-two per cent of the meth seized in Japan is from Canada


Canada is Colombia NorthWhen Krysta Edwards crossed over from B.C. to Washington in June, border officers allegedly found a hidden compartment in the 23-year-old North Vancouver resident’s Ford Explorer. Inside was 27 kg of Benzylpiperazine, or BZP. Despite its origins as a treatment for intestinal worms in cattle, BZP has found new life as the it party drug at night clubs, and the little blue pills recovered from Edwards’ truck, stamped to look like Homer Simpson, were worth US$1 million. For those on the front lines of American law enforcement, it was yet another reminder of the huge synthetic drug industry booming in Canada. “They used to just throw marijuana in hockey bags and stuff it in the trunk, but now we’re seeing a level of sophistication similar to what we’ve been dealing with on the southern border [with Mexico],” says Chief Thomas Schreiber, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Blaine, Wash.

Canada is well known for its B.C. Bud, a highly-potent form of marijuana. But a new industry is thriving. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its 2009 report, said Canada is the largest ecstasy supplier to the U.S. Meanwhile, Japan says Canada is the single biggest source of seized ecstasy tablets. Asian-Canadian gangs have also ramped up the production of methampetamines, shipping vast quantities to the U.S. and overseas. According to the U.N., Canada accounts for 62 per cent of the meth seized in Japan by weight, and 83 per cent in Australia. The spoils are enormous. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates Canadian drug traffickers now generate between US$33.7 billion and US$56.2 billion each year from U.S. drug sales.

No wonder Canada’s already tarnished reputation is falling further. In May, after gangland killings in Vancouver, the Economist magazine asked “British Columbia or Colombia?” Lowbrow crime fiction has caught on, too. In his novel KLLRS last year, one of crime writer Phil Bowie’s characters gushes: “Canada is the new Colombia.” Even academics sound the alarm. “Colombia North” is how B.C. criminologist Darryl Plecas puts it.

Plecas foresaw the move to synthetics “years ago.” For starters, production times are infinitely smaller: a drug lab can produce new product over a weekend versus 90 days for marijuana. And a lab can pound out $1-million worth per day versus an annual $500,000 for a marijuana grow-op, he says.
Increasingly, the RCMP is finding sophisticated “large-scale” synthetic drug labs—eclipsing the small, mobile kitchen labs of the past. They’re going “ultra-sophisticated,” says Plecas, and “have the wherewithal to set up operations in remote areas, underground, in tractor trailers and mobile units.”

The country’s grip on synthetic drug production has placed Canadian organized crime “in a position of global strength,” says Supt. Brian Cantera of the B.C. RCMP. Organized crime is using the same infrastructure, contacts, markets and trade routes as with marijuana, he adds. Indeed, it was the profits from marijuana production that allowed criminal gangs to diversify and get into synthetic drug production in the first place, he says.

Canada wasn’t always a haven for ecstasy. Until a decade ago, says UNODC research officer Thomas Pietschmann, the Netherlands and Belgium had a lock on the market, with powerful Israeli and Russian crime syndicates trafficking the psychedelic drug to America’s shores. Then Europe clamped down on precursors, chemicals used to make synthetic drugs. By 2001, ecstasy, which sells for between $5 to $25 per tablet, was making its way to Canada as bulk powder. Producers were “tableting” it here, and sending it into the U.S. via overland routes. Now the entire manufacturing process is done here.

The scale of Canada’s synthetic drug industry can be measured by all the Canadians sitting in foreign prisons. Six are up on charges in California after a massive two-year investigation dubbed “Operation Candystore” broke up a drug ring allegedly moving methamphetamine and ecstasy from B.C. to California. In June, two B.C. men were sentenced to life in prison in Australia for smuggling $130 million worth of ecstasy and cocaine hidden in computers—the fifth-biggest drug bust in Aussie history. Also this spring, two Canadians were sentenced to 10 and 20 years in U.S. federal prisons for trafficking ecstasy, and another was arrested in California with $7-million worth of ecstasy hidden in his tow truck. Meanwhile a B.C. man dubbed a “Canadian drug don” by Asian media led Indian police to that country’s largest meth factory.

How can Canada tackle its new drug problem? Pietschmann says it must intercept more of the raw chemicals at its ports. Ottawa has tightened its rules around precursors, which are also used to produce legitimate pharmaceuticals, but criminal groups continue to thrive on illegal precursor imports. But drugs like BZP highlight the challenges. Canada has yet to ban BZP outright, as the U.S. has done—and by the time it does, another chemical may have taken its place on dance floors. “It’s a constant, morphing, ever-changing product,” says Plecas. “They’re not called designer drugs for nothing.”


Canada is Colombia North

  1. Pardon me if I don't hop-to at the latest alarmist pronouncement from the Excited States of America. Criminal gangs and cross-border smuggling of illegal substances definitely deserves attention from authorities, but let's take legal advice from the country with the world's largest prison population with a grain of salt.

  2. Breaking: United States of America most substance-abusing society on Earth.

    • That a pretty big generalization. Afghanistan has mass opiate problems, Australia has high rates of meth and heroin, … the list goes on. Substance abuse is far from an American problem.

      • Just keep saying that to yourself. "Substance abuse is far from an American problem". Afghanistan GROWS the opiates, they don't have anywhere near the problem as the U.S.

  3. "Indeed, it was the profits from marijuana production that allowed criminal gangs to diversify and get into synthetic drug production in the first place, he says."

    So the ridiculous law that makes pot illegal, creating more market and higher profits, is responsible for creating the infrastructure necessary for these operations. The laws of economics would likely have led to the same end, but those same laws accelerated the process.

    And as Anon points out, demand begats supply.

  4. I think you have to be careful about articles telling us about 'new up and coming drugs'. I had never heard of BZP before, but if I was of a certain type of character, I might go out looking for it now to find out what all the hype is about. Not all publicity is good publicity.

  5. the cause of the problem is prohibition.MORE prohibitioin will make things worse, not better.

  6. Colombia North. Glad to see MacLeans avoiding the sensational tabloid-style headlines.

    Roby-D, if you were a certain type of character, you'd have found it long ago. By the time the media picks up on these things, they're usually pretty well-established. I remember hearing about this new "designer drug" called "Ice" hitting the streets of Vancouver in the early 1990s. Turned out "ice" was crystal meth. That stuff had been around for a long time.

  7. Unfortunately journalist continue talking negatively about Colombia.
    If you do not know, this country has changed positively with the new government. It is offensive continue talking of Colombia's Drugs Cartels, (it was a black history of Colombia). Today the country us totally different.
    I have been there and nobody smokes drugs on the cities' streets. Here in Canada, you can see people smoking drugs more often. You can enjoy pristine beaches, flowers, emeralds, beautiful mountains, and much more.

    It is offensive no only for colombians, but also for thousand of men and women in uniform that have died dealing drugs.

    • Andrew…you are so correct. Colombia has cleaned up its act regarding drugs. Things have shifted big time into Bolivia and Peru…that where the government protected coke labs are today. Colombia is in fact a beautiful country.

  8. We have good evidence to indicate that harm reduction approaches would be much more successful in reducing drug use and related crime in both Canda and the U.S. but we'd rather pursue an expensive and ineffective punishment model that also makes our communities less safe. For what? Some sort of moral superiority?

    • Agreed Be-Rad and tobyornottoby. Unfortunately our PCP is not very progressive-minded and will continue with the ineffective approaches such as imposing tougher laws and longer prison terms. Ugh – the frustration when they won't look at the research evidence to the contrary!

  9. Actually Toby, there's "good evidence" supporting (and refuting) just about every aspect of the drug problem. The fact is, drugs do and always will take a major toll on society. Prohibition or no prohibition. Harm reduction or "war on drugs", it's all the same in the end. NOBODY has the answer. People have been finding ways to intentionally destroy themselves since we first started ingesting substances for reasons other than caloric intake. It seems to be a uniquely human endeavor. It will never stop. Harm reduction is just another euphemism – like "War on Drugs", that allows the state to pretend it can do something about the problem.

    • I agree that human beings will always find something to ingest that removes them from reality. HOWEVER, harm reduction strategies like those employed in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (free clean needles and crack pipes and methadone clinics) has medical/scientific evidence that they reduce the harm to the addict and others. War on Drugs is an American term that to me may as well be as effective as the War on Terror – the costs to society FAR outweigh the benefits. And only those who are truly ignorant to the real issues believe that is the way to go.

    • Actually, I don't think there has been much in the way of evidence at all in support of a regime based on heavy criminalization. Where these heavy-handed approaches do work to some degree, like Singapore, the consequences of simple usage so far outweigh the nature of the offence as to be criminal in themselves, never mind the impact on civil rightrs.

      I agree that harm reduction has taken on an amorphous quality, meaning different things to different people. But let's start from the perspective that doing drugs is bad, so how do we stop more people from doing drugs? That's one aspect of harm reduction that shares a vector but not the absolutist outcome of war on drugs. If criminalist regimes can be demonstrated to have less effective outcomes as compared to a combination of regulated access and public health campaigns, would we accept that despite the "messages" it might send?

      "the most straightforward way to reduce demand, of course, would be legalization under a tightly controlled regime."

  10. ….seems much like an advertisement but on the other hand if one is idiot enough to buy and ingest…whose problem does it become?

  11. BZP is not a big deal, bad high, nothing like MDMA, people are being ripped off when they buy that garbage. In any case, this is another reason that we need a regulated market in Canada. Those expecting to receive MDMA will instead get BZP, which is a more dangerous substance than MDMA. The safety of the citizens of Canada should be the biggest concern, we must especially think of the children in those case who could be buying a much more dangerous drug than they think. Legalize, regulate and save children.

  12. methamphetamine usage is even promoted on television in the united states as some kind of adventurous reality. google AMC's show about a school teacher who becomes a drug dealer.

  13. Canada is a perfect place for crooks to set up shop. We're excessively trustworthy and are perplexed why the American's want to tighten border security. Whenever groups of Canadians go off the rails, such as the Toronto 18, we can count on North America's most left leaning newspaper, the Toronto Star, to undermine the charges. Then there's the case of Omar Khadar, who allegedly is a jihadist, and killed an American doctor. Michelle Shepherd has turned him into a virtual poster boy of Canadian compassion. So yes, if you're a crook, a pimp, a drug dealer or drug maker etc, this is a great place to set up shop. We certainly have Singapore beat by a thousand miles.

  14. It's always an issue since they pin pointed Canada for all the seized meth. Thanks for sharing this information.