CBC Digital Archives

Biker gangs sail into ports

Rum runners. Heroin connections. Ecstasy labs. All part of a long line of criminal dealings in the service of international drug trafficking that smear Canada's squeaky-clean image. As the international community began to regulate intoxicating drugs in the 20th century, drug traffickers forged global routes through Canada in a vicious and wildly lucrative case of supply and demand. CBC Digital Archives looks back at Canada's unique place in this perilous trade as a customer, conduit and producer of illegal drugs.

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The Hells Angels is not a weekend club of amateur motorcycle enthusiasts, say Canadian cops. They're one of the most sophisticated criminal organizations in the world, according to police, and a lynchpin for international drug trafficking in North America. What starts in the hands of Italian and Colombian drug cartels gets to its final destination with a motorcycle escort. And with tonnes of drugs coming into Canada via marine shipping, police fear that biker gangs have infiltrated the ports. Yet, as we hear in this 1998 CBC Radio report, as police around the world target harbours in the fight against smuggling, Canada has decided to disband its Ports Police.
• According the U.S. Department of Justice, as of 2009 the Hells Angels operated in 26 countries and had a membership of more than 2,000. Just one of several outlaw motorcycle gangs, these increasingly global organizations are targeted by law enforement as central players in both international drug trafficking and domestic drug distribution. • Innovations in container cargo shipping transformed the flow of global trade in legitimate and illicit goods beginning in the 1960s. By the 1990s, standardized containers moved interchangeably by sea, rail and truck without being unpacked (intermodal shipping), outpacing "break-bulk" shipping, which is costly both for time spent in dock and labour required to unpack ships. By 2008, with the advent of computerization and ships capable of carrying an unprecedented number of containers (15,000), almost 90 per cent of non-bulk cargo travelled by sea.

• Organized crime groups quickly moved to exploit this volume traffic, piggybacking not only drug trafficking, but trade in weapons, people, human organs and stolen merchandise. As of 2007, Canadian ports handled almost 4 million containers per year. Only a fraction of these containers are ever inspected.

• The Canadian Ports Police began disbanding in 1997, with the final detachment wrapped up in 1998. Special RCMP units took over some ports security duties from the Ports Police in Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver. In 2007, the RCMP told the Senate Standing Committee on National Defence and Security that organized crime remained very active in Canadian ports, citing Vancouver's port in particular.

Medium: Radio
Program: The World at Six
Broadcast Date: Jan. 26, 1998
Guest(s): Roy Bergerman, Jeff Geddis, Jean Pierre Levesque, Peter Mancini
Host: Russ Germain
Reporter: Kelly Ryan
Duration: 4:20

Last updated: February 21, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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