The bulk of the $1.5 billion total of drugs seized from China was from a single bust in Montreal in 2009 that intercepted a shipment of GBH, known commonly as a date rape drug, valued at $1.4 billion.
Ketamine, another hallucinogen often used as a date rape drug, also figures prominently in drug busts from China, according to analysis by CBC New Network's Power & Politics of CBSA data obtained through the Access to Information Act.
Although the number of seizures of drugs from China — 1,879 over the six years — is lower than some other countries, China is becoming a real concern, said the RCMP's Ken Cornell, who heads one of the force’s anti-drug smuggling divisions.
It is one of the reasons the RCMP signed a memorandum of understanding with China in 2010 to share intelligence with an eye to combating smugglers.
But it has been a struggle.
"We have difficulty trying to share intelligence with the Chinese because it's difficult for them to do investigations when there are so many different [types of drugs]. They have a huge chemical and pharmaceutical industry in that country," Cornell said.
Cornell dislikes the term "date rape drug" used to describe GHB, ketamine and Rohypnol, stressing that they are used primarily as hallucinogens.
The drugs have made headlines because of the prominence they've played in sexual assaults, where the drug is slipped into a drink to knock a person out and make them an easy target for sexual assault.
Garry Clement, a former RCMP officer who heads up a company with an expertise in combating organized crime, said he believes a lot of drugs smuggled into Canada eventually wind up in the U.S.
Clement said what's also disturbing is the role of organized criminals. He said they tend to be the ones behind drug busts with street values ranging from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, and in the China case, more than $1 billion.
Role of intelligence
That GHB bust is believed to be the border service agency’s biggest. In the 2009 operation, officers seized 69 drums containing a "suspected illegal substance," which was "confirmed to be GHB," the CBSA said. The substance in the barrels did not contain 100 per cent GHB, though the agency declined to confirm the exact percentage.
Clement and Cornell said such large busts do not result from random searches, but rather from intelligence the CBSA and RCMP have gathered working with colleagues in the United States and overseas.
Cornell describes how information sharing leads to a bust.
"You will get a call from a customs official in Germany who says, 'We've got a shipment of furniture that we've done some testing on'… and they determine that they’ve got six kilos of heroin on board that came from Afghanistan or something like that," Cornell said.
"We'll have undercover operators who will pose as shipping companies, do the actual delivery and gather the evidence that we need to lay charges against these characters."
Intelligence is one of the areas affected as the border services agency makes cuts in an attempt to reduce spending as part of the federal government’s bid to get rid of the deficit.
In the 2012 budget, the government announced the agency would lose 10 per cent of its budget, resulting in the loss of 250 front-line officers. But the union for the border guards said that number is closer to 325 and includes 56 intelligence agents, and that the overall total of personnel cut will be more than 1,350.
The agency said that it will be working smarter and maintaining its ability to nab smugglers.
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