A total of 170 kilograms of cocaine was seized in two separate drug busts at the Port of Saint John, Canada Border Services Agency officials announced Friday.
The drugs have an estimated street value of more than $21 million, officials said.
Eight Ontario men, ranging in age from 31 to 70, have been charged with importing, conspiracy to import and possession for the purpose of trafficking, according to the RCMP.
The drugs were discovered in shipments arriving at the port on May 29 and June 5.
The cocaine was hidden in hollowed-out wood pallets used to transport food products from Guyana, said Don Collins, CBSA director of the southern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island district.
'We have kept hundreds of thousands of doses of this dangerous drug off our streets, and kept the profits out of the pockets of drug smugglers.'—Andrew LeFrank, CBSA Atlantic region
"These were grooved out on both sides," he said, holding up one of the boards for reporters during a news conference.
Slim, plastic packages, each containing about one third of a kilogram of cocaine, were then glued inside the boards, said Collins.
Although the cocaine came from Guyana — where cocaine-stuffed pineapples seized at the port last year also originated from — officials don't believe it was manufactured there.
It's unclear where the drugs came from, but the shipping containers were destined for the Toronto area, they said.
"This is a very significant seizure here in our region," Andrew LeFrank, regional director general for CBSA, Atlantic region, stated in a release.
"We have kept hundreds of thousands of doses of this dangerous drug off our streets, and kept the profits out of the pockets of drug smugglers," he said.
Discovered during secondary searches
An RCMP officer stationed in Trinidad got a tip about the drugs from someone in Guyana and border officials were advised to be on the lookout, said RCMP Supt. Rick Penny, drug enforcement commander for the greater Toronto area.
On May 29, while conducting a secondary examination of a marine container, CBSA officers using X-ray technology detected anomalies with the wooden pallets in a shipment of sauces, seasonings and noodles destined for Mississauga, officials said.
The pallet boards had been hollowed out and filled with bags of cocaine, totalling about 121 kilograms.
Five men have been charged in connection with that seizure and are scheduled to appear in court on July 9.
On June 5, CBSA officers discovered similar concealment methods in another shipment of food products destined for a business area in North York and 49 kilograms of cocaine was seized.
Three men are charged in that case and are scheduled to appear in court in Toronto Friday.
New Brunswick RCMP Federal Operations West, CBSA, the RCMP in the Greater Toronto Area and Saint John police participated in the seizures.
Last year, RCMP and border officials intercepted cocaine-stuffed pineapples at the Saint John port.
There were two seizures between August and October, totalling 28 kilograms.
"It exits through Guyana and it enters into Canada. It's not that Guyana is a problem, it's part of the route," said Penny.
The estimated street value of those seizures was $3.5 million.