Raids targeting an alleged organized crime and drug trafficking ring based in Kanesatake, Que., will curb intimidation and harassment in the Mohawk community, authorities said Tuesday.
The operation, dubbed Connectivité, involved 500 officers from a specialized native police squad reinforced by provincial and federal authorities.
The investigation targeted an alleged criminal network believed to be peddling marijuana, cocaine and designer drugs from producers in the greater Montreal region to the Mohawk communities of Kanesatake and Akwesasne, said Insp. Lino Maurizio of the Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (A-CFSEU).
"We have disrupted its capacity to use aboriginal territories for its activities," Maurizio said at a news conference. "We can catch them, no matter where they are."
At least 55 people were targeted in the raids, which spanned some 50 sites in Kanesatake, nearby Oka, Akwesasne and other locations north of Montreal.
At least 38 people were arrested by midday and face drug trafficking and conspiracy charges. Most will appear in court Wednesday.
Weapons were seized during the raids, and authorities located a hydroponic greenhouse and marijuana plantation north of Montreal, Maurizio said.
Police won't disclose the quantity of drugs seized, Maurizio noted, given "these people don't keep a lot of drugs in their residences for a long time."
"When we did our searches, we were looking for intel."
Raids rock Kanesatake
Kanesatake Chief Sheila Bonspiel said she was on her way to Montreal when she saw the police "circus" coming into town. "We turned around and came back" and were told about the raids.
"We're disturbed," Bonspiel said. "Honestly, they put our kids at risk."
'The residents of Kanesatake have delivered a clear message: Violence and intimidation will not be tolerated.' —RCMP Insp. Michel Arcand
Operation Connectivité was launched in early 2010 as part of wider efforts to contain criminal activity on the Mohawk territory.
Residents have long known about illicit activities, but "people are afraid to make complaints, they talk, but they're afraid of making an official complaint," said Maurizio. "We have people who used threats, who assaulted other people."
"The residents of Kanesatake have delivered a clear message: Violence and intimidation will not be tolerated," added RCMP Insp. Michel Arcand.
Police raided four Kanesatake homes, including one in which officers exited the house with what appeared to be bags of pills, said CBC reporter Daniel Halton.
At least one of the houses targeted by police was surrounded by a chain-link fence and surveillance cameras, and officers seized a couple of vehicles outside the home.
French network TVA reported that a newspaper journalist was roughed up by locals during the raids, and that authorities warned members of the media to keep their distance.
Tuesday's events took place around the site of the Oka crisis, the historic 1990 standoff between police and Mohawk protesters.
The last major drug raids in Kanesatake were in May 2009, when 13 people were arrested on Mohawk territory.
That operation, involving more than 300 police officers, was the result of a year-long investigation launched after some Kanesatake residents complained to police.