RCMP and border officials shed more light Thursday on what they say is a scheme to repeatedly import drugs into Canada, with cocaine-stuffed pineapples intercepted at a port in New Brunswick and marijuana packaged around watermelons seized from trucks in Ontario.
Several people have been arrested.
There were two seizures of cocaine at the Port of Saint John between August and October, with an estimated street value of $3.5 million, officials announced on Thursday — International Customs Day.
A total of 28 kilograms of cocaine were involved, officials said.
Meanwhile, two trucks, each carrying 115 kilograms of marijuana hidden in the wooden pallets, were recently stopped at the Windsor, Ont.-Detroit border.
"As long as the demand is there, people will find a way to get the supply to you," RCMP Supt. Rick Penney told CBC News.
"Drug traffickers are exceptionally creative in the way that they try to conceal and hide and bring drugs into the country," said Penney, the RCMP's drug enforcement commander in the Greater Toronto Area.
"What was unique about this ... was the continual efforts of the criminal enterprise to repeatedly perform importations into Canada of drugs from various countries: Costa Rica, Guyana, the United States and looking at Jamaica as well ," he said.
"We uncovered importation schemes using the mail, using trucks, and products out of the U.S. to bring drugs into Canada."
Cocaine hidden inside hollowed-out fruit
The first seizure, made public on Wednesday, involved 80 cocaine-stuffed pineapples discovered on a marine container in Saint John on Aug. 25.
Nineteen kilograms of cocaine were concealed inside the hollowed-out fruit.
On Oct. 11, a second, similar shipment from Guyana was discovered, with officials finding nine kilograms of cocaine.
Both of the shipments had been destined for Ontario – Scarborough in suburban Toronto and Brampton, respectively.
At least six people have been arrested in connection with the two cases. Four people are being sought for extradition, said Penney.
Evidence suggests the people arrested have ties to criminal organizations in Jamaica, Guyana, Costa Rica and the United States, officials said.
X-rays showed anomalies
The drugs were discovered during secondary examinations of the marine containers, said Don Collins, director of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for southern New Brunswick and P.E.I. district.
Using X-ray technology and detector dogs, officers found anomalies with the pineapples, he said.
The cocaine was in plug and pellet forms.
The first container had 436 boxes of pineapples, said Collins. Cocaine was found in 80 pineapples scattered throughout 44 of those boxes, he said.
Officers searched a total of 2,200 boxes containing pineapples and mangoes on the second container. Of those, 156 boxes had pineapples stuffed with cocaine.
These incidents were the first time drugs have been found concealed in pineapples at the Saint John port, said Collins. But over the past few years, there have been several large seizures of drugs hidden in fruits and vegetables at land borders, he said.
The containers were on a container ship that visits Saint John on a regular basis, said Collins. He declined to name the ship, or the line.
Collins believes the drugs would have been transported to Ontario by rail.
Arrests follow 4-month investigation
The CBSA contacted the RCMP and Saint John Police Force after the initial seizure. A subsequent four-month investigation by the RCMP resulted in drug-related charges against six people in Ontario. Scheduled to appear in a Toronto court for bail hearings Wednesday were:
- Denise Sonia Edwards, 46, and Linval Earl Brown, 52, both of Pickering.
- Dexter Emmanuel Boyce, 43, of Toronto.
- Abdool Zaman Hakeek, 54, of Scarborough.
- Roman Clint McInnis, 42, of Keswick.
- Lancelot Henry, 45, of St. Catharines.
After the second seizure, the CBSA again contacted the RCMP and Saint John police, and as a result, three Ontario males were arrested.
"It's operations like this one that demonstrate that strong partnerships — partnerships between CBSA and RCMP — is necessary to effectively combat organized crime," said Supt. Guy Rook, the RCMP's federal policing officer for New Brunswick.
"What began with the discovery of cocaine in the Saint John Port has ultimately led to a large-scale organized drug trafficking ring with [several] people facing charges and large quantities of drugs seized," he said.
"The chain of events that led to yesterday's arrests in Ontario, beginning with CBSA's discovery of cocaine concealed in pineapples, exemplifies the sort of intelligence-sharing, cross agency co-operation, interprovincial communication and team work that is necessary to effectively combat organized crime."