$6.5M meth bust in Manitoba 'saved some lives,' RCMP say
22 kg of methamphetamine and 43 kg of cocaine seized after 16-month cross-border investigation
The seizure of an estimated $6.5 million worth of illegal street drugs "saved some lives," RCMP said on Tuesday, announcing what they called the largest meth bust in Manitoba's history.
More than 150 RCMP officers, acting on nine search warrants, last week seized 22 kilograms of methamphetamine and 43 kilograms of cocaine, officials said at a news conference in Winnipeg. Eleven people face more than 60 charges.
"It's a huge dent, right off the top … Suddenly the supply chain has been disrupted," RCMP assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy, said of the impact the seizure will have on trafficking.
The methamphetamine equals 220,000 hits, said RCMP Supt. Lisa Moreland, as only one-tenth of a gram is required to get high.
Police believe if they hadn't intervened, the drugs would have been trafficked in kilograms by a network, Moreland said.
Several of the raids occurred at "normal residential suburban neighbourhoods, and that surprised a lot of people," MacLatchy said.
But what may have been more surprising to police throughout the investigation was the collaboration among criminal organizations.
"Traditionally, we see organized crime groups working in very tight silos … and they're getting more sophisticated, so they're spreading out and they're working with whichever groups can help them achieve their goals," MacLatchy said.
One of the 11 people arrested, Kenny Erstelle, is a member of the Hells Angels, according to RCMP. But local street gangs and Asian organized crime groups were involved as well, according to Moreland.
"It's important to underline that this drug-trafficking network was very well connected," Moreland said. "We have no doubt that they would have continued to traffic cocaine and meth into our communities."
The collaboration of crime organizations is concerning to both MacLatchy and Moreland, who added that if those groups are working together, law enforcement organizations have to be equally "nimble" in order stop them.
This is also the second major bust in Manitoba this year involving massive drug operations that included collaboration between organized crime groups, police said.
Until the recent bust, the largest meth seizure in the province happened in January, when a 50-day investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service resulted in seizing 10 kilograms of meth, worth over $1 million.
Moreland could not specify which street gangs were involved in the latest bust, as the investigation is ongoing. More information will be provided when possible, she added.
The bust is a result of a 16-month cross-border investigation called Project Declass.
The partnership between RCMP, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Canada Border Services Agency began in August 2018, after two people in Winnipeg were arrested for allegedly trying to import 40 kilograms of cocaine into Manitoba, Moreland said.
Other Canadian police forces were involved as well, RCMP said.
RCMP said although they worked with the U.S. agency and the Canadian border services, no port of entry was directly involved in this particular investigation.
At this time, 66 charges have been laid against the 11 people arrested. Charges include trafficking meth and cocaine, conspiracy to traffic fentanyl, possession of property obtained by crime and money laundering.
Health Canada is aiding in the investigation to help find out where the seized drugs originated, RCMP said.
"This is a break [police] have been looking for for some time," said Rick Lees, the executive director of the Main Street Project — a non-profit group that helps people living on the street and struggling with addictions.
"It sends a message that we are serious about [stopping] this and that slows [criminal groups] down, and that's a good thing."
Lees stressed that the bust is important because meth is incredibly inexpensive and highly addictive, and said it will help front-line groups work with those affected.
Bear Clan executive director James Favel told CBC News that the citizen patrol group has already picked up about 130,000 used needles this year, so knowing a large quantity of meth won't be sold on the streets of Winnipeg makes him "a very happy camper."
Favel is waiting to see what the impact of the bust on the drug trade will be, however.
With files from Karen Pauls and Angela Johnston