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Task force targets organized crime, drugs

From left: RNC Supt. Wentzell, RNC Chief Roche, Minister Hogan, RCMP Supt. Santosuosso, and RCMP Supt. David Cook. – Submitted by © RCMP

By Ryan King

Community News Reporter

WEST COAST — On Feb. 11, the RCMP and RNC announced the formation of a task force called Join Force Operation West, which will target drug trafficking and organized crime on the west coast of Newfoundland. The task force will begin operations in March and will be based out of Corner Brook.

RCMP Superintendent, Derek Santosuosso, stated that collaboration between the two police agencies was needed.

“Drug trafficking and organized crime pose threats to our communities and our province, which require our collective enforcement efforts. After analyzing the criminal landscape in the region and identifying opportunities for enhanced enforcement and intelligence gathering, it made sense for us to collaborate on our shared goal to disrupt serious crime in a strategic and efficient manner.”

RNC Media Relations and Public Communication Officer, Cst. James Cadigan, said that this joint operation between the RNC and RCMP was years in the making and will cover communities outside their base of operations in Corner Brook.

“It is focused on drug trafficking and organized crime. With the West region, it does take in, and it is inclusive of Corner Brook and the surrounding communities but does not limit it to that particular area. They’re going to follow the information and the activity wherever it takes them,” stated Cadigan. “They will follow the information and the activity, wherever it leads. There’s no boundary line to be drawn.”

Cadigan said several signs pointed to drugs and organized crime as an issue on the west coast.

“Anytime you have any amount of crime-related break and entries, armed robberies and the like in a community, it’s pretty indicative that there’s drug trafficking or related activity involved in the source of those types of the motives for those types of crimes,” said Cadigan. “So essentially, it’s about getting to the bottom of where this behaviour is generated through drug trafficking and organized crime trade, and essentially removing that activity from the community by making arrests, seizing product, and eliminating and disrupting the opportunity of these networks who basically harm the community.”

The specifics of what drugs the task force will focus on will be shared once operations commence.

“That information will be all part of the ongoing investigation. I think that if anybody has information that can assist this joint force operation, we want them to contact us at the RNC. The number at the detachment there is 637-4100,” said Cadigan.

It is also too soon to reveal what specific arrests had pointed to organized crime and drug trafficking on the west coast.

“We aren’t going to discuss any particular details around whether arrests have led to further action or not. At this point, we’re just looking to gather as much information as possible related to drug trafficking and organized crime in the community,” said Cadigan.

Besides calling the RNC to assist them in gathering information, anonymous reports could be made to Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or online at http://www.canadiancrimestoppers.org.

“Organized crime and drug trafficking is strictly focused on profit, and it does so at the expense of the safety and security of the community,” said Cadigan. “Their only focus is on making their money and moving their product, and they will do so using violence, by taking over properties in the community, and so on. So, this is an intrusive network that we intend to disrupt in the province.”

Cadigan said that the partnership will be invaluable in disrupting these networks.

“We are very lucky to have such a strong partnership with police services here in the province between us and the RCMP Newfoundland and Labrador. We look forward to working with them again on this on this joint force operation, and it just goes to show that how valuable teamwork, professionalism, and certainly the commitment to the community as a whole, how valuable those aspects of policing are here in the province,” said Cadigan.

Glenda Power, Director of Strategic Communications with the RCMP, stated that the issues that the task force will address are not just problems for areas like Corner Brook. They can impact smaller communities like Port aux Basques.

“Any communities that are impacted by the drug trade are impacted by organized crime, some to a larger extent than others. Drug trafficking is not just a big city problem,” stated Power.

Police forces on the island are well aware of an ongoing drug issue on the west coast.

“Police know that illicit drugs are being trafficked into Newfoundland and Labrador, including the west coast of the province. JFO West will target the criminal networks responsible. The RCMP and RNC saw an opportunity to work together for the communities that we police. Organized crime has no borders, so our provincial police services will address the impact jointly,” stated Power.

Power shared that one example that pointed to a drug problem on the west coast was an incident on Jan. 28, 2022, where three men were arrested for drug and weapons offences in Deer Lake. The RCMP seized several weapons and three ounces of cocaine.

One of the individuals was from the community of Jeffreys. He was charged with possession of a concealed weapon, trafficking cocaine, possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine, and breach of a release order. Both the other individuals had pending charges for possession of prohibited weapons and drug charges.

There are negative impacts on entire communities caused by drug trafficking and organized crime.

“Organized crime and drug trafficking can bring increased violence, primarily directed to participants in the illegal activity, as well as increases in crimes such as break, enters and thefts, as those who are addicted look to support their purchases of illicit drugs,” stated Power.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2020, there were a total of 5,142 drug-related offences for opioids nationwide. These cases marked a 34 per cent increase from 2019. However, during that year, other types of drug offences decreased. Cannabis offences dropped by 25 per cent, heroin by 15 per cent, ecstasy by 7 per cent, methamphetamine by 5 per cent, and cocaine offences by 2 per cent.

Between 2019 to 2020, there was a 4 per cent decrease in the Crime Severity Index in NL, with a reduction in breaking and entering, thefts under $5,000, shoplifting under $5,000, and robbery. However, this was partially offset by increases in mischief and the trafficking, production, importation, and exportation of cocaine.

The Violent Crime Severity Index in the province between 2019 and 2020 showed a one per cent increase in cases of sexual assault, assault, and uttering threats. There are also a half dozen cases pending on the court dockets for the southwest coast that relate to drug trafficking.

Mayor of Port aux Basques, Brian Button, welcomes the initiative to cut down on the drug trade.

“It’s a monumental task of stopping it altogether, but any disruptions and any combination or police force that work together to disrupt it, stop it and try to curtail it, it’s certainly something that myself, as a municipal leader, and concerns for not only our community, for our province,” said Button. “When it comes to the drug trade, I’m certainly in favour of seeing something like that.”

While Button admitted that larger centres may have a greater problem with organized crime and drug trafficking, he is aware that it is still an issue that needs to be addressed in his community, especially given its location as a provincial gateway.

“We’re very fortunate that the amounts of crimes that we have is on, probably on a lower scale. And you know, I’m good with that. But it’s like anything. It’s why we keep saying why we need stronger RCMP representation here, where we need to have those numbers, because although we’re in a situation where crime rates might look to be down, you know, it’s about presence as well. And when you take that presence out, so go some of the things in which we take pride in, of having a safe and a community that has very low crime rates. That could change,” said Button. “We have a lot of transit traffic through here, especially during the tourism season.”

Button does not believe the announcement will mean increased police presence in the region, although the current council and the previous council have been advocating for more officers stationed at the local detachment. The task force will work as required, including the Southwest coast.

“We need to have it just because of our geography and what they cover. We need to make sure. So I don’t know if that necessarily will take – it won’t take care of those needs, because it’s more centralized. It’s more of a one-off type thing that they’re working on, and this is a joint operation that’s province-wide, and it really doesn’t have that bearing on where we go when it comes to the RCMP and their larger presence for the area.”

But the mayor said that the task force will be helping this region by protecting residents from the dangers of the illegal drug trade.

“My concern has always been that a lot of times what we see on the streets today, what’s sold, is not necessarily what people get at sometimes,” said Button. “It’s always that fear of people wanting to make money, but yet things are going out, and you don’t know from every day it’s always a fear. I’m always fearful of wrong things getting in the wrong hands, and not necessarily being what they thought it was, and it causes death in a lot of cases. And we’ve seen all too many young people that have been caught up with stuff, and you know with fentanyl, and so on so forth. And it is scary. It’s scary a time and it’s scary out in there. So we try to see and hope that we can keep it out of all of our communities and we can keep our community safe, especially our youth.”

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