Manitoba

Federal Justice Department part of CanadaDrugs.com raid

The Canadian Justice Department confirms it is the lead agency in an RCMP raid on the Winnipeg headquarters of CanadaDrugs.com earlier this week.

Court file in case is sealed from public view

RCMP won't say why they were at CanadaDrugs.com's Winnipeg offices on Wednesday, deferring questions to the federal Department of Justice. (CBC)

The Canadian Justice Department confirms it is the lead agency in an RCMP raid on the Winnipeg headquarters of CanadaDrugs.com on Wednesday.

RCMP officers were at the offices on Terracon Place on Wednesday, but a police spokesperson wouldn’t say why, citing officer safety.

She later referred all questions to Ottawa, where a spokesperson for the Department of Justice told CBC News, "The court file in this matter is sealed."

Record sealing, also known as a confidentiality order, is the process of removing the records of a court case from access by the general public, Ian McLeod wrote in an email.

"Any document that is subject to a sealing or confidentiality order from a lower court or the Supreme Court of Canada is classified as confidential [in nature]," he added.

"Unfortunately, we cannot provide any further information," McLeod said, pointing CBC News to the International Assistance Group.

The IAG helps Canadian and foreign police and prosecutors by extraditing people to face prosecution or sentencing in the country in which they are charged or convicted.

The group also assists authorities in sharing evidence and providing other types of investigative assistance to advance Canadian and foreign criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Focus of U.S. investigations in the past

CanadaDrugs.com has been the focus of investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the past.

It was named in a 2012 investigation into two shipments of counterfeit cancer drugs sold to more than 100 American oncologists, many of them in California.

Kris Thorkelson heads what's believed to be Canada's largest online pharmacy. He is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the time, a CanadaDrugs.com manager acknowledged shipping and distributing vials of the blockbuster cancer drug Avastin, but said he didn’t know the drug was counterfeit.

It was found to contain cornstarch and acetone but no active ingredients.

CanadaDrugs.com was ordered to stop marketing drugs online into the U.S. through more than 4,000 websites registered in different countries.

Several of the American distributors and oncologists have since been found guilty of selling and purchasing the counterfeit drugs.

An FDA spokesperson wouldn’t confirm if the agency was involved in the police visit in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Last year, Health Canada temporarily suspended CanadaDrugs.com’s establishment licence, which means it can’t sell prescription drugs to pharmacies until the department’s concerns are addressed.

In an email to CBC News, a Health Canada spokesperson said that licence has not yet been reinstated. The agency wouldn't comment on the current investigation.

"Health Canada was made aware of the RCMP raid on the headquarters of canadadrugs.com in Winnipeg. Health Canada is not in a position to speculate on the association between the RCMP actions and the FDA's investigation on counterfeit Avastin," wrote Eric Morrissette, senior media relations advisor.

CanadaDrugs.com is believed to be Canada’s largest online pharmacy. Its owner, Kris Thorkelson, is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Messages to Thorkelson, the company and its lawyers and media spokespeople went unanswered on Thursday.

Another industry pioneer behind bars

The FDA crackdown has already taken down another major player in the internet pharmacy industry.

Andrew Strempler, also of Manitoba and a former rival to Thorkelson, was found guilty on charges of importing and selling foreign and fake drugs in 2012.

He is serving time in a Georgia correctional institution and will be released later this year.

Strempler sold his company, RxNorth, to Thorkelson in 2006.