Dozens charged, $45M in drugs seized in massive Toronto-area organized crime busts

Police forces in the Toronto area have seized $45 million worth of illegal drugs in two major organized crime busts, York Regional Police say. 

York, Toronto police forces worked with border services and the OPP

York Regional Police Supt. Michael Slack speaks in front of some of the drugs and handguns seized in two major investigations in the Greater Toronto Area. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Police forces in the Toronto area have charged 50 people and seized $45 million worth of illegal drugs in two major organized crime busts, York Regional Police said in a news conference on Thursday morning. 

Led by the York Regional Police, the two investigations — Project Moon and Project Zen — focused on dismantling drug production and trafficking rings.

In Project Zen, York police worked with the Canada Border Services Agency to zero in on an organized crime ring operating out of a house in Vaughan. 

They had first focused on the house after a man standing in front was arrested in 2018 and found to have three kilograms of cocaine on him. 

In the months since, police found evidence that several suspects were trafficking large amounts of synthetic drugs.

After searching the house, police found handguns, cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine pills and five kilograms of fentanyl — which police say is the largest amount ever seized at one time in York Region.

"This group had access to weapons and they posed a significant threat to our community," Det-Sgt. Doug Bedford said during Thursday's news conference.

Eight people were arrested and a total of 38 charges were laid.   

Project Moon, meanwhile, spanned southern Ontario and involved the co-operation of several police forces, including the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police.

It focused on the takedown of what York police describe in a release as a "large-scale synthetic drug network" with ties to Asian organized crime and street gangs. 

In a series of searches in several Ontario municipalities including Markham, Lindsay and Pefferlaw, police seized cannabis plants and 560 kilograms of dried cannabis, 23 kilograms of methamphetamine, 15,300 MDMA pills, four kilograms of magic mushrooms, 400 Viagra pills and firearms. 

Forty-two people were charged as part of Project Moon.

Among them were members of the Parkdale Crips, a Toronto gang that served as "runners and co-conspirators," according to Bedford. 

Abusing medical cannabis licences 

Police also revealed on Thursday that the group at the centre of Project Moon was funding its illegal activity by producing and selling cannabis while using legal medical licences. 

"There is evidence of this group fraudulently obtaining licences to produce cannabis through Health Canada," said Bedford.  

He said several licences were often pooled to "increase production," and cannabis was then grown and sold on the illegal market. He also said there was evidence the cannabis was illegally exported to the U.S.  

"Organized crime has manipulated and adapted to the current laws in Canada," he said, showing footage of farms in Leamington, Durham and Kawartha Lakes that were growing cannabis destined to be sold on the black market.  

In a statement to CBC News, Health Canada said they enforce compliance with cannabis regulations.

"When the Department is made aware of a potential issue, officials re-open the file(s) in question and review all relevant information to determine whether there have been breaches of regulatory requirements," it said.

Some of Health Canada's powers include but are not limited to:

  • Entering a place where the inspector believes cannabis is being produced or stored.
  • Examining packages, substances and items used in the production and storage of cannabis.
  • Seizing and detaining cannabis in accordance with the Act.
  • Conducting an inspection, if necessary.

If non-compliance is found, the department said they have a range of enforcement tools at its disposal such as:

  • Refusing to register an individual.
  • Contacting the registrant and reminding them of their legal obligations.
  • Cancelling their registration.

Last year, a Radio-Canada investigation found Health Canada had awarded production licences to companies with individuals that have links to the Montreal criminal underworld. 

Thursday's announcement from York police also comes on the heels of another major bust, which involved police in Niagara, Hamilton, Ottawa and Sudbury and focused on biker gangs. 

On Wednesday, those forces announced that they dismantled a network selling cocaine, opioids and meth across the province and charged 15 people. 

"Health Canada supports law enforcement representatives on a daily basis by providing a dedicated service 24 hours a day and seven days a week to confirm, when necessary, that specific individuals are authorized to produce a limited amount of cannabis for medical purposes," the department said.