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Disturbing Report

SURREY, B. C. - A major trend is emerging, with more drug traffickers favouring land ports of entry over the more traditional route through Toronto's Pearson International Airport, according to the Ca...

SURREY, B. C. –A major trend is emerging, with more drug traffickers favouring land ports of entry over the more traditional route through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, according to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The CBSA analyzed a pattern of cocaine trafficking between Jan. 1, 2001 and June 30, 2007, and published a report on the findings entitled: Cocaine Seizures, Pacific Region Perspective.

In the 6.5-year period analyzed in the report, CBSA seized 8.2 tonnes of cocaine in Canada, considered to be worth more than $1 billion dollars, at various land, air, marine and postal ports of entry across the country. While the traditional methods of cocaine importing had historically been via air and marine methods, over the last 19 months examined by the report, land-based movements have become the favoured method of importing cocaine into Canada, mainly via commercial trucks through “Pacific Region” ports of entry.

The majority of cocaine coming to Canada and the US now travels through South America, Mexico and the US, according to the report. It is estimated by CBSA that 72% of the cocaine shipped to the US moves through a Central America-Mexico corridor, and then travels into the US through southwest border crossings. Once the cocaine enters the US, the report states that Mexican-based drug cartels operating in southern California distribute the cocaine to various points in the US and Canada.

A major west coast trucking route, Interstate 5, connects southern California to the Pacific Region and this provides what CBSA describes as a “simple and direct link to Vancouver and Western Canada.” Intelligence reports and seizure data accessed by the CBSA indicate that almost all of the cocaine seized at the “Pacific Highway District Ports,” was staged either in Southern California or Washington State. The two most significant national trends in cocaine trafficking, observed by the CBSA, involve a change in where the seizures are occurring, as well as the mode of transport.

“The increase has been almost entirely due to an increase in the average size of seizures, which itself, is directly attributable to the mode of transport (actual number of seizures dropped in the same period).Whereas most cocaine used to be imported through Toronto airport, there has been an increase in land-based imports using commercial tractor-trailer units,” reads the report.

While the amount of cocaine seized in the Pacific region has been steadily increasing since 2001, the CBSA notes that this increase has accelerated since Dec. 1, 2005. For the time period analyzed by the study, CBSA in the Pacific Region had seized 1,672 kgs of cocaine.

“Of this total, four ports of entry in the Pacific Highway District have been responsible for 86% of this total. Combine these interdictions with seizures done by US law enforcement agencies (cocaine destined for Canada but seized in the US) and the increasing scope of the problem is even further accentuated.”

In contrast, cocaine seizures at marine ports of entry decreased significantly during the same study period, with only two seizures totaling less than 10 kgs at the Vancouver cruise ship facility, and no Halifax marine seizures since 2004.

“Seizures in the air mode (Pearson International Airport in Toronto), are still at a high level, but the percentage of cocaine seized at airports in Canada has decreased from 70% of the Canadian total in 2002, to less than 25% in the first six months of 2007. Land-based cocaine seizures have increased substantially during this same time period,” says the report.

Furthermore, the CBSA analysts state that the rapid rise in highway seizures in the Pacific Region since 2006, and the Windsor/St. Clair, Ont. region in 2007 “are directly connected in a number of ways.”

The report notes that demand for cocaine in B. C. has remained “relatively stable,” even as cocaine seizures have increased. Production of cocaine was also considered to be “relatively stable,” which indicates to the CBSA that this increase in cocaine coming into B. C. is likely headed for destinations beyond B. C.

“Organized crime groups importing cocaine into B. C. are not only exporting cocaine to other areas in western Canada, but are including central and eastern Canada, as well as Australia, Asia and Europe. A seizure in Australia in September 2006 of 135 kgs of cocaine was the largest in Australian history, and originated in Vancouver. Five individuals arrested were either residents or former residents of British Columbia,” says the report.

The report further reveals that the significant increase in the amount of cocaine seized in the Pacific Region has been due to a large increase in the size of each individual shipment. While the total number of cocaine seizures has remained relatively constant, the size of each shipment has been increasing, and more than doubling, since 2004.

“US law enforcement seizures have also had an increase in cocaine seizures during this same time period, and to highlight the significance of these averages, since 2001 the six largest cocaine seizures in the Pacific Region have all occurred in the last 19 months, and all six seizures have been at highway ports of entry (on both sides of the Canadian/US border).”

Hidden and fabricated compartments are not necessarily a new trend in cocaine smuggling, according to the CBSA.

However, what has becoming apparent to CBSA inspectors is the high level of organization and sophistication that has increased with concealment methods which involve either fabricated false compartments, or the utilization of natural compartments inside the vehicle. Some smugglers are even more brazen.

“On occasion, the drugs are not concealed at all, and are simply sitting inside a cardboard box in the back of a truck,” states the report.

The majority of concealment methods encountered by the CBSA since 2005 involve either fabricated false compartments or the utilization of natural compartments inside the vehicle. “These compartments are the concealment of choice in more than 56% of all cocaine seizures done by CBSA in the highway mode, and the fabricated compartments signify a growing level of sophistication in the smugglers and traffickers.”

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