Police have arrested and charged 18 residents of Ontario and Quebec with firearms and drug-trafficking offences after an 18-month long multi-agency investigation that spanned from the Greater Toronto Area to Montreal and into the U.S.
The Ontario Provincial Police investigation, dubbed Project Silkstone, resulted in the seizure of 11,500 pills containing fentanyl, as well as significant amounts of cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine, marijuana, THC vaporizers and related equipment, police said.
Police also seized 23 guns, tens of thousands of dollars in cash and casino chips, equipment to make fake identity cards, electronic equipment used to counter tracking devices, vehicles, and Hells Angels gang paraphernalia.
"If you happen to be in the business of threatening people or extorting money, these are the tools of the trade," said OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum at a Vaughan, Ont., news conference on Thursday morning.
"Normally I wouldn't give out evidence at a media conference such as this, but I can tell you I have no problem letting you know that we have audio recordings of drug traffickers who callously admitted that the enormous profits that can be made from fentanyl far outweighs the potential overdose deaths that can come about as a result of them dealing these drugs," said Barnum. Much of the fentanyl that was seized was being sold out of Montreal, he added.
Police: No longer enough to 'know your dealer'
Police focused much of the news conference on the dangers of fentanyl, not just for opiate addicts but for recreational users of other drugs, as well.
"They need to understand now — there's a really, really, really good chance it contains fentanyl," said Barnum. "It's a cheap cutting agent, compared to the price of cocaine it's cheaper. You can cut your cocaine with fentanyl, it's even been seen laced in marijuana. These pills, whether they're ecstasy or oxycontin or whatever, they have fentanyl in them. And it just takes such small amounts to kill somebody."
Barnum warned that even recreational drug users who know and trust the source of their drugs could be at risk from fentanyl.
Drugs transported into U.S.
Drugs seized in the operation were being transported from Canada across the U.S. border, where they were sold in Connecticut, said Barnum. Those drugs were purchased by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents as part of the operation. The drugs were transported using a variety of methods, he said.
"We seized a snowmobile, so that's a big hint on how things are trafficked," said Barnum.
Police have no information to indicate that the seized guns had been transported from the U.S., Barnum said, but are still working to trace the origins of the weapons.
ID counterfeiting equipment seized
Police say some of the equipment they recovered gave criminals the ability to produce counterfeit Ontario government identifications, as well as passports. One of the suspects had a fake ID lab inside his home and sold the documents to organized crime groups, according to Mike Pothier, a detective inspector with the OPP's Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau.
That suspect had access to Service Ontario via an employee of that agency.
"We knew that that employee could facilitate obtaining identification under a false name," said Pothier, who added that the OPP worked with Service Ontario to identify and arrest the suspect, who no longer works for Service Ontario.
The investigation was a collaboration between the OPP, RCMP, Sûreté du Québec, Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal, Canada Border Services Agency, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
All of the accused are being held in custody, and will be appearing at the Ontario Court of Justice in Belleville on different dates. The OPP says its investigation is ongoing, and will release more information to the media over the coming days.
Quite the haul from this RCMP/OPP/CBSA/SPVM bust pic.twitter.com/rv5D46y5tW— @trevorjdunn