'Cheap to make, easy to move': Forum hears about dangers, challenges of meth

Winnipeg police hosted a forum on meth, drugs and gangs on Monday night.

About 60 people showed at Gordon Bell High School to hear information from Winnipeg police

Several members of the Winnipeg Police Service presented information on everything from what meth is and its symptoms, to the role of community police in connecting with citizens in the West Broadway area, to an overview on WInnipeg's gang culture. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Several dozen people gathered at Gordon Bell High School on Monday night to hear for themselves the challenges and dangers the police and the community faces surrounding drugs and gangs, especially meth.

About 60 community members gathered at the West Broadway high school for the educational evening, including at least 15 members of the Winnipeg Police Service. 

"To stop the flow is no small feat; we know that. We believe that 80 per cent of all methamphetamine is coming in internationally. It's not even available in Canada," said Inspector Max Waddell of the organized crime unit.

"It's cheap to make, it's easy to move, and the majority gets up to Chicago and then it's dispersed all throughout the northwest and often up to Canada."

The evening featured presentations from a Winnipeg Regional Health Authority public health nurse who works on the front lines, doing harm reduction with people who are addicted to mind-altering drugs such as meth and opioids. She highlighted the need for more harm reduction programming in the province to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths.

Information booths were set up by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Police Board, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata and Block Parents, to name a few.
"To stop the flow is no small feat; we know that. We believe that 80 per cent of all methamphetamine is coming in internationally. It's not even available in Canada," said Inspector Max Waddell of the organized crime unit. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Several members of the Winnipeg Police Service presented information on everything from what meth is and its symptoms, to the role of community police in connecting with citizens in the West Broadway area, to an overview on WInnipeg's gang culture.

"We wouldn't have a street gang problem if we didn't have a drug problem," said Det. Steve Mitchell, a member of the gang expert program with the organized crime unit.

Recent trends

He highlighted Project Recall, a large police gang bust that led to the arrest of 14 members of the Mad Cowz gang in 2013, and later Project Rewind in 2014, which resulted in the arrests of 17 members of the B-Side Street gang.

"We see trends where youth-based gangs will rise up and recruit heavily in numbers and as the trends sort of goes through, or a violent act occurs, or several members get incarcerated, we can see that gang drop right out and no longer be in existence," he said.

He said a recent trend in Winnipeg is the use of numeric coding on buildings; the numbers used correspond with letters of the alphabet, which spell out the name of a gang.
Det. Steve Mitchell with the organized crime unit is an expert on gangs and presented on Winnipeg's gang culture and how gangs and drugs are interlinked. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

"If you see that in your neighbourhood, get it removed immediately," he said, because gangs thrive on exposure.

"For a gang to be successful and attract membership, there needs to be money. Almost all the time, they're involved in narcotic trafficking," he said.

"Without the trafficking, gangs don't often exist."

Waddell said while Winnipeg police have not uncovered many meth labs in the city, one recent bust happened on Kennedy Street in December.

Several community members asked how they could help advocate for the police given the recent demand on their service related to meth. They were encouraged to keep talking to their city councillors and to the public at large.

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said the expansion of services at places like Main Street Project would help address the issue of where police take those who are high on meth and potentially dangerous.

"Our resources are challenged. I can tell you meth has put a new weight and a new load on our service, not to mention violence and instability," said Waddell.

"This summer is going to be a challenge."

About the Author

Erin Brohman

Health reporter

Erin Brohman is a former pediatric nurse at the Stollery Children Hospital in Edmonton and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. After graduating from King's College with a journalism degree, she took off to Yellowknife to work for CBC North for nearly two years, then settled in Winnipeg. At CBC Manitoba she blends her interests in health care and sharing people's stories. Story tip? Email erin.brohman@cbc.ca.