Rural Manitobans received another reminder this month that drug trafficking is not just a big city problem.
Thirty-one people were arrested and another three are being sought in connection with drug trafficking – all with addresses in smaller towns and rural municipalities of eastern Manitoba, RCMP announced earlier this month.
Police laid over 100 charges after seizing a quantity of illicit drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and hallucinogens, worth an estimated street value of about $18,000.
The crackdown, which also netted 39 guns, is the largest-ever bust of street-level traffickers in rural Manitoba, said police who described those arrested as “big drug dealers in training.”
Most are in their 20s and come from Selkirk, Beausejour, Garson, Stonewall, Steinbach, Scanterbury and Winnipeg, as well as the rural municipalities of Rockwood, Lac du Bonnet, La Broquerie, Alexander, Springfield, and Brokenhead.
It’s yet another indication of how drug trafficking has spread well beyond the larger urban centres to all parts of Manitoba, police said.
“I don’t believe there’s an area of the province that has not been touched by it in some way,” said Corporal Derek Inglis, supervisor and investigator with the RCMP’s Winnipeg Drug Section. “It’s an unfortunate fact of life now. It’s pervasive. It’s everywhere.”
Nor is it only attracting the young.
On May 6, Swan River RCMP executed a CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) search warrant at a residence in Birch River where they seized more than 100 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, as well as growing equipment and two firearms.
A 73-year-old man was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking, in addition to other Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act charges.
A second-generation police officer, Inglis said drugs are much more available in rural areas than in the 1970s when his father was battling crime.
Police say several factors are at play. As smaller regional centres have disappeared, people now travel more frequently between small towns and big cities, and that helps to boost flow of drugs to rural areas. A shortage of jobs in rural areas also makes people more vulnerable, both expanding the number of people willing to turn to drugs and the number willing to earn cash by distributing them. And depopulation plays a role, too. Old farmhouses, sheds and Quonsets located on little-used roads are rarely patrolled, and those roads are lures to those involved in illegal activities, police say.
The latter is one of the reasons for why so many marijuana grow-ops are located in the country. RCMP officials say they take out “a good number” of these every year, finding them located both indoors and out. In 2005, police destroyed over 20,000 marijuana plants worth a street value of $20 million from outdoor grow-ops. All were found in rural areas.
TIPS AID ENFORCEMENT
Yet, even as rural populations decline, and fewer eyes are around to see what’s going on, police say they could do much more if more rural residents reported suspicious behaviour. When rural residents take note of “something out of the ordinary” and tip off police, it can be a huge help, said Inglis.
“I do understand the trepidation of people phoning in when it’s probably nothing,” he said. “But probably nothing could be something.”
Often a call from an observant area resident is enough to tip the balance as police try to assemble enough information to apply for a search warrant. It’s choosing to look the other way that hinders or stalls investigations, said Inglis.
Frustrated police still talk of a grow-op that was busted several years ago. After the raid, a farm neighbour living next door told a reporter he’d been suspicious all along. He dropped by to say hello to the new neighbours and was told they planned to raise cattle. When he asked what kind, he was told “the brown ones.”
That should have immediately raised suspicion, said Inglis.
He said police will ensure confidentiality if people are afraid of being identified after reporting suspicious activity, he said.
“The best way for a citizen to be confident is for them to be very clear when speaking with an investigator that they wish their information to be used, but for their identity to remain confidential,” he said.
Last week’s arrests of street-level traffickers in eastern Mani toba took out what Superintendent Scott Kolody, RCMP East District Officer, described as “foot soldiers of organized crime.”
“They are the suppliers of drugs in rural communities,” he said in an RMCP news release.
The investigation, dubbed Project Develop, began in November.
“Idon’tbelieve there’sanareaof theprovincethathas notbeentouchedby itinsomeway.”
– CORPORAL DEREK INGLIS, SUPERVISOR AND INVESTIGATOR WI TH THE RCMP’S Winnipeg DRUG SECTION