CBC Digital Archives

No joy in ecstasy bust

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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Everyone agrees, it's a major bust that has wiped out a substantial North America ecstasy trafficking network based in Canada. Police seize pill presses that can churn out a pill a second, tens of millions in drugs and an underground bank used for laundering the spoils. Yet, as we see in this 2004 clip from The National even with 170 people arrested in Canada and the U.S., more ecstasy arrives everyday from Europe, and there's plenty of people and improvised labs ready to process it.
• As with marijuana and methamphetamine, Canada has become a source nation for ecstasy production. In the 2006, the RCMP's Drug Report stated that between 2004 (the time of this clip) and 2006, "Canada has reversed its ecstasy supply pattern status from an import and consumer nation to a major production and export country." By 2009, the UN World Drug Report cited Canada as the main producer and exporter of ecstasy for the North American and Japanese markets. Organized crime - from outlaw motorcycle gangs to Mexican cocaine cartels, from Asian triads to the Mafia - dominates the illicit drug trade at every level, and their presence in Canada continues to grow.
  • Ecstasy, or MDMA, was invented by German pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1912 during research aimed at developing a new blood clotting agent. It was never commercially produced by Merck and only came into circulation when its recipe was synthesized by American chemist Alexander Shulgin and passed on to a psychologist friend who began to use it in his practice. It subsequently became popular and widely available beginning in the 1980s as part of rave culture. Ecstasy was outlawed in Canada in 1976, and in the U.S. in 1985.

• A purely synthetic drug, ecstasy is classified by the United Nations as part of a group of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), which also includes amphetamine and methamphetamine. Unlike opiates or cocaine, which can only grow in specific climates, ATS can be manufactured anywhere that the chemical precursors are available. In the 1980s and 1990s, ecstasy production was mostly concentrated in Europe, particularly the Netherlands, and the drug was smuggled to points across North America and Asia, often by commercial courier. Increasingly, production of ATS has moved closer to its markets in makeshift labs and pill-pressing facilities like the ones busted in this 2004 clip.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: March 31, 2004
Guest(s): James Comey, Ben Soave, Raf Souccar, Karen Tandy
Anchor: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Kas Roussy
Duration: 2:58

Last updated: February 13, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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