2019 Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs: CISC and RCMP joint presentation - Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud

March 29, 2019
Halifax, Nova Scotia


Good morning colleagues and roundtable participants, and thank you to Public Safety Canada for inviting me to discuss the RCMP's approach to combatting illicit drugs, in particular, opioids and methamphetamines.

How many of you have seen the recent movie featuring Julia Roberts - Ben is Back? For those who have not seen it, it is about this teenage opioid addict who comes home for Christmas from his rehab center. It does provide a pretty realistic picture of the impact of drug addiction on young lives, on families, on communities, on violence and crime.

It did lead me to ask myself: Can we do more? Can we do better?

In Canada, we are also seeing trends, such as:

  • The rise of synthetic drug demand and consumption
  • The Rise of production of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine
  • Prices for these drugs are stable
  • The rise of organized crime implications in the importation, exportation, production and distribution

So back to my reflection: Can we do more? Can we do better?

I will start by providing a brief description of our enforcement strategy, highlighting what we are doing and how we are doing it. Then I'll give you a snapshot of our successes and challenges.

RCMP Federal Policing is focussed on the most serious threats to Canadians, and this includes transnational organized crime groups that engage in the trafficking of multiple illegal drugs, particularly those that have such a negative impact on our communities: cocaine, methamphetamines, fentanyl, and heroin.

Investigating transnational organized crime requires the RCMP to work with foreign law enforcement partners, as well as leveraging international forums such as the North American Dialogue on Drug Policy (NADD) and the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group. These international networks allow us to share criminal intelligence and information to better target transnational organized crime networks involved in drug trafficking, including fentanyl and methamphetamines.

As the Director of the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada indicated in his remarks, Mexican organized crime groups are increasingly involved in the trafficking of methamphetamines and opioids to North America. By exchanging intelligence and conducting joint operations, we are able to target, investigate, and disrupt some of the illegal activities of these groups suspected of trafficking fentanyl or methamphetamines to Canada.

Most of the synthetic drugs and precursors we are seizing originate in China. Therefore, we have made efforts to work directly with China's Ministry of Public Security. We have exchanged information on Chinese fentanyl suppliers and suspicious analogues, providing us with investigative leads and identifying suspicious analogues that may be illegally imported to Canada. For our law enforcement counterparts in China, such information exchanges enable them to target and disrupt fentanyl suppliers within their own country. However, due to recent events, operational collaboration between both countries is currently not at the level it needs to be in order to address this threat.

Can we do more? Can we do better?

We work closely with US law enforcement, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with which we have had a number of successful investigations and prosecutions that disrupted organized crime groups involved in poly-drug trafficking. One recent example of this is a case in Ontario that involved the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) where we carried out coordinated arrests of several targets and seized significant quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, firearms and bulk cash. This multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation is ongoing in partnership with the DEA, drawing on RCMP Liaison Officers situated in the US, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

At present, the RCMP has approximately 86 Tier 1 and 2 investigations−the highest priority investigations− focused on organized crime and its links to poly-drug trafficking.

Methamphetamine production and trafficking is central to many of these investigations. For example, this past October (2018), the RCMP arrested five organized crime suspects in British Colombia who were engaged in large-scale methamphetamine production and trafficking. These people will face trial on a range of serious criminal charges.

The trafficking of drugs is not new, of course. But we are seeing it done in new ways. For example, we see a significant amount of synthetic drug trafficking taking place online. As a result, we now have to operate in that domain as well. We are developing expertise in penetrating the Dark Web and using sophisticated investigative techniques to combat this type of drug trafficking. We have developed a specific strategy for addressing trafficking on the internet and it is proving to be quite effective.

Recently, we disrupted six Dark Web vendors in cooperation with the DEA and Homeland Security Investigations, resulting in the arrest of 16 people, and the seizure of approximately 6.4 kilograms of fentanyl and other drugs, with a street value of approximately $1.5 million. There are 30 ongoing investigations that involve online drug trafficking.

As I've pointed out, addressing transnational organized crime requires international cooperation. But, equally important for advancing these types of investigations, is the need for domestic collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and government departments such as Public Safety Canada and Health Canada, and agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canada Post Corporation. We also engage the private sector for assistance.

The RCMP-led Organized Crime Joint Operations Centre is a collaborative initiative with the Canada Border Service Agency and Canada Post that leverages each agency's investigative tools to supply intelligence on both domestic and international fentanyl shipments. This joint operations centre draws on intelligence experts from all three agencies who collect and analyze information to produce investigative leads.

Also, from a domestic law enforcement perspective, we are working through a national coordinated approach to fighting organized crime activities under the umbrella of CIROC – the Canadian Integrated Response to Organized Crime – for which I have the honour to co-chair with Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum of the OPP.

At CIROC, we have focused our energies in the last couple of years on the threat posed by criminal biker gangs, more specifically the Hells Angels, with some success.

But we can do more and do better!

So at our most recent meeting in February, informed by the alarming trends with our topic today, we decided to develop a law enforcement strategy. Planning is starting next month so the timing of this conference is optimal. I hope that our strategy can be informed by the discussions that will be held throughout the day.

We also work with the private sector through our National Chemical Precursor Diversion Program. This program relies on the assistance of experts in the Canadian chemical industry to enhance industry awareness of illicit drug production methods, as well as to identify and analyze precursor chemicals and equipment seized during the course of a police investigation. Such assistance from private industry helps law enforcement to identify commonalities between different types of production methods and the specific precursor chemicals being used. This information is useful in identifying markers that lead to specific traffickers and organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of fentanyl.

Let me give you an example. A pharmaceutical business owner intends to purchase a large amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, but does not provide a rationale to the wholesaler or retailer about the reason for the purchase, and wants to pay in cash. The seller, who has received a bulletin from the National Precursor Diversion Program, identifies this transaction as suspicious and collects additional information on the purchaser (e.g., name, address, etc.). This information is then shared with the RCMP for further investigation.

The relationship with industry is invaluable in generating new leads through tips received. It provides us with a better understanding of how organized crime groups acquire precursor chemicals and equipment, and improves our capability to disrupt the illicit production of drugs like opioids and methamphetamines.

The Canadian chemical industry, in turn, is learning how legitimate precursor chemicals and regular household items are being used for nefarious and illegal purposes, leading them to take preventive steps to protect the public, and safeguard their products from being exploited in such a negative manner.

I've spoken about a few of our recent successes, but we recognize the adaptability of criminals when it comes to drug trafficking.

With respect to some of the challenges we face, I point to the growing trend of Dark Web vendors using the postal system for the movement of illicit drugs.

Under the Canada Post Corporation Act, postal inspectors are the only ones with the legal authority to interdict, search, and seize mail, suspected on reasonable grounds, of containing fentanyl or other illegal drugs. In practical terms, this means that Canada Post must be vigilant in identifying drugs being sent through the mail, and must collect evidence in a systematic and proper way that may be provided to the RCMP for a criminal investigation. There are risks associated with this.

Providing the RCMP with the legal authority to interdict, search and seize mail would necessitate changes to the Canada Post Corporation Act. But such changes have the potential to improve successful prosecution of Dark Web vendors.

Can we do more? Can we do better?

Another area where we face significant challenges is money laundering associated with drug trafficking. After all, money and greed are the key drivers for those who import, produce and distribute illicit drugs.

Sophisticated organized crime groups use Canadian or foreign-based professional money launderers to clean the proceeds of their drug trafficking activity. This is the subject of recent media attention focusing on the exploitation of legitimate businesses such as casinos and real estate, to launder the proceeds of crime.

The RCMP is collaborating with Finance Canada and other partners to support the development of new anti-money laundering approaches with the goal of increasing disruptions, laying criminal charges, and ultimately, successful prosecutions.

Can we do more? Can we do better?

Ladies and gentlemen, I draw your attention to the topic of drug supply reduction and prevention as another area in which we are working to improve the Government of Canada's efforts against illicit drugs.

Existing Controlled Drugs and Substances Act regulations require that every pill press imported into Canada be registered with Health Canada. However, the new provisions do not account for any restrictions related to the domestic use, possession, or sale of these devices. Anyone can purchase or use these devices for any purpose, including the production of illegal drugs.

RCMP investigations and drug seizures continue to discover legal precursor chemicals, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, in clandestine drug laboratories built by organized crime groups. There is currently no monitoring to identify and prevent the diversion of these legal precursors for the production of illicit drugs.

As a member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), the RCMP is supportive of proposals to regulate and prohibit the importation, possession, and sale of designated devices that may be used in the illicit manufacture of controlled substances, and initiating a closer review of existing precursor chemical regulations.

Much of what I have talked about speaks to the impact on the supply chain. However, this strategy on its own, has demonstrated limited success in the past. Addressing the most important issue of "demand" is critical. I notice the absence of this topic on the agenda today.

Again, can we do more? Can we do better?

In closing, I'd like to circle back to the continued evolution of the criminal threat environment and the tools that criminals use to exploit that environment. As criminal behaviour changes, law enforcement, public policies and legislation also need to continue to evolve.

Another key challenge in combatting crime nowadays is the use of encryption by criminals who exploit technology and privacy laws to further their dirty deeds. But I will leave these topics for another day.

Old crime done in new ways has highlighted the interconnectedness of crime types in Canada, and highlights the specialized skills and tools needed by 21st century law enforcement. In cooperation with the Government of Canada, we are striving to support our law enforcement community with better tools and laws that ultimately, will provide greater safety and security for Canadians.

Can we do more? Can we do better? Can we help the Bens of this world, families and communities?

I say yes! I say we must! I say: Let's do more! Let's do better! Together!


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