Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Half U.S. ecstasy comes from B.C.

The Tri-City News

Ecstasy smuggling across the B.C. border has exploded, according to a cross-border team of law enforcers.

“Blaine is a hotspot for ecstasy smuggling,” said Roy Hoffman, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant special agent in charge. “We’re seeing a huge amount of ecstasy heading for points in the U.S.”

He was among the officers who briefed the Cascadia Mayors Council meeting June 30 in Surrey on the work of the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET), which pools policing efforts from both sides of the border to bust smugglers.

Hoffman said it’s estimated 52 per cent of the ecstasy tablets smuggled into the U.S. arrive from B.C.

He said it’s a shift from the typical smuggling pattern of Canadian marijuana heading south and cocaine, guns and other chemicals going north.

Ecstasy is easier to transport than marijuana, Hoffman noted.

Methamphetamine component chemicals are increasingly arriving in Vancouver from China, he added.

IBET officials recounted major drug busts of recent years – from this year’s discovery of a tunnel crossing the border at Aldergrove to the break-up of a helicopter pot smuggling operation based in the Okanagan.

Smugglers sometimes drive stolen vehicles at high speeds across raspberry fields across the border, they said. Others use pleasure boats, kayaks or drop contraband from airplanes.

But most busts involve cars or trucks crossing at points like the Peace Arch crossing, where in 2003 officials seized 1,871 pounds of marijuana that had been smuggled into Blaine amid frozen raspberries.

The cargo isn’t always drugs.

Surrey RCMP Superintendent Bill Ard cited a human smuggling case a year ago where people landed in Toronto, were moved to safe houses in Vancouver and were then taken across the border, sometimes at Peace Arch park.

“That group is now out of business,” Ard said.

Better technology used to find illicit cargo is making a difference, officers said.

Scanners can now detect different densities of materials inside sealed trucks or containers, Hoffman said. But he said adept smugglers are finding ways to defeat the devices.

The challenge of getting the cargo across may be increasingly leading pot growers to shift operations south of the border, he added.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said IBET has been a success.

“They’re working very closely together, which is just tremendous for us because they’re sharing intelligence,” she said.


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