Nfld. & Labrador

Police probe St-Pierre smuggling, with a twist

There’s a new smuggling problem off the south coast of Newfoundland, and it doesn't involve the rum running of past lore — the French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon are the destination, not the origin, of a new type of illicit cargo.

RCMP now targeting drug shipments to French islands, in addition to booze headed to N.L.

Rum and coke: a new smuggling tread between St. Pierre and Newfoundland, Adam Walsh reports 3:44

There’s a new smuggling problem off the south coast of Newfoundland, and it doesn't involve the rum running of past lore — the French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon are the destination, not the origin, of a new type of illicit cargo.

The Mounties say they have new intelligence to suggest that drugs are being trafficked from Newfoundland to the French-owned islands.

"It's something that we didn't expect really, to be honest,” said RCMP Const. Luke St.-Hilaire.

The RCMP has routinely patrolled Newfoundland’s south coast to stop rum runners bringing booze from St-Pierre-Miquelon.

But the Mounties are now finding themselves focusing on halting the illegal flow of substances the other way.

"For the most part right now, it's marijuana and cocaine,” St.-Hilaire said.

Long tradition of smuggling 

Smuggling has a long tradition in the waters around St-Pierre-Miquelon — from tales of Al Capone and his gangsters visiting St-Pierre during prohibition, to out-of-work Newfoundland fishermen in the 1990s capitalizing on a black market for cheap booze.

Historian Jean-Pierre Andrieux has documented it all. Andrieux has written numerous books on the history of rum running, and has a collection of thousands of photographs.

The RCMP believe that drugs are being trafficked to St-Pierre-Miquelon from Newfoundland. (CBC)
​Andrieux says smugglers 20 years ago would use fibreglass boats with large engines to make the 12 nautical mile trip as fast as possible.

"They would buy the strongest Yamaha engines that you could find," said Andrieux.

"The Yamaha dealer down on the Burin Peninsula was having a field day."

Nowadays, drug traffickers are taking a page from the book of rum running, according to the RCMP.

“So it's usually small little 10 to 11 feet skiffs or boats,” St.-Hilaire said.

“Just open dories, I guess. Dual motors and that's it … They can make that trip pretty quick without being caught by us or us being none the wiser."

He says there is even intel that traffickers have used Sea-Doos to drop drugs off.

French authorities working with RCMP

But on the French side of the waters, the intelligence isn't as solid.

Lt.-Col. Philippe Musset, the commanding officer for the French Gendarmerie Nationale on St-Pierre, says they haven't been able to track the level of trafficking to the islands.

Lt.-Col. Philippe Musset is the commanding officer for the French Gendarmerie Nationale on St-Pierre. (CBC)
​Musset does say, however, that there are drugs on the islands and that his officers are working closely with their Canadian counterparts.

"We are sharing everyday some intels from each part of the Atlantic," said Musset.

There has yet to be an arrest for drug trafficking from Newfoundland to St-Pierre because the intelligence is so new.

But the RCMP says it believes that is just a matter of time.

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