Gangs producing drugs to get around border closures: Vancouver police

VANCOUVER — Gangs may be turning to producing illegal drugs in an effort to get around pandemic border closures and scrutiny on shipping routes, Vancouver police say.

Police say they seized millions of dollars worth of drugs, including 20 kilograms of suspected fentanyl, from five locations around Vancouver and neighbouring Richmond as part of a four-month long investigation.

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"This is probably the most fentanyl I've seen in one spot in my 24 years of drug enforcement," said Inspector Bill Spearn, with the department's organized crime section, at a news conference on Wednesday.

Police also seized guns, methamphetamine, cocaine and cannabis.

B.C.'s coroners' service has said fentanyl is a main factor in the surge in overdose deaths in the province and over 4,700 people have died since the government declared a public health emergency four years ago.

The seizure comes as B.C. police grapple with gangs and organized crime groups changing trafficking practices due to border closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vancouver Police Department previously said it had not seen a drop in drugs flowing into the city and the metro region or a change in prices, prompting questions about how gangs were maintaining their drug supplies.

Spearn said the seizure shows gangs may be turning towards producing their own drugs to get around border closures.

"I think a lot of it is still coming in through the ports, still coming in through the borders, but a lot of it could be produced locally, and that's always been a concern of ours. Once you shut down those smuggling routes, you start seeing that domestic production," he said.

Spearn disputed the idea that there was a drug shortage in the city, adding that the seizure shows there is a large supply of illegal drugs in the region.

Washington State Patrol said in a statement that its troopers had not seen any increase in arrests or seizures related to drug trafficking across the border with B.C. since the shutdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, British Columbia's gang task force, previously said it was seeing a drop in illegal drugs on the street with prices for those drugs rising.

Eight people were arrested during the seizures but have been released with police expecting charges to be recommended in the coming months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020.

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