In a United Nations report released yesterday, Canadian drug lords were painted as sharing their patriot love for synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and Ecstasy with nations around the world, making Canada a major trafficking hub in today's trans-national market.
But this comes as no surprise to local law enforcement, who have seen an increasing number of clandestine labs producing much more amphetamine type stimulants ( ATS ) than our domestic market can hold.
If you can judge the amount of drugs in a country by the amount of drugs that are seized -- which is partly what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has done -- our famed home-grown Cannabis isn't as worrisome as ATS on a global scale.
In 2007, the fourth most amount of "Ecstasy-group substances," such as MDMA, was seized in Canada, making up 12% of global seizures.
We were sixth for amphetamines, with 4% of the world share; 11th for Cannabis, with 0.9%; and 22nd for cocaine, with 0.4%. "Canada-based organized crime groups' participation in the methamphetamine trade has grown significantly since 2003," the 2009 World Drug Report notes. There were 1.82 metric tons of meth seized in Canada between 1998 and 2007 -- 85% of that was from 2007 alone.
By 2006, intelligence agencies noted that Asian crime syndicates and outlaw motorcycle gangs in Canada increased the amount of meth and exported primarily to the United States, but also to Oceania and East and Southeast Asia, the report said.
In Australia, Canadian meth accounted for 83% of their total seized imports by weight ; in Japan, it accounted for 62%, the report said.
While Canada was only exporting 5% of its home-made meth in 2006, that number shot to 20% the next year.
By 2007 -- the year that much of this report is based on -- about half of the Canadian-born Ecstasy was thought to be exported, mostly to the U.S., Australia and Japan. Canada was identified as "the single biggest source" of Ecstasy seized in Japan.
In recent years, American authorities clamped down on the movement of precursor chemicals -- namely ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- used to make drugs like methamphetamine, which is much more addictive than, but often disguised as Ecstasy.
This effectively pushed much of the domestic production north to Canada and south to Mexico, UN Office on Drugs and Crime executive director Antonio Maria Costa said.
In 2003, Canada implemented Precursor Control Regulations to address the need to control chemicals like ephedrine.
"By the time those regulations came in, it was too late," said RCMP Sgt. Brent Hill, the officer in charge of Ontario's chemical diversion unit.
"We already had organized crime groups well established."
"The tell-tale signs were pretty obvious back in the late 1990s, early 2000 that synthetic drugs were going to be a wave of the future," Hill said.
Working closely with the chemical industry, Hill's unit keeps an eye on who is buying what and trains industry staff to watch out for those who want ephedrine for something other than the sniffles. But the illegal drug industry in Canada isn't just diverting chemicals through legitimate means.
According to the UN report, Ecstasy labs found on Canadian soil in 2007 were "large-capacity facilities" controlled by Asian crime syndicates using chemicals trafficked from overseas. And it's a lucrative business.
"Think about this: A 25-kilogram drum of ephedrine fetches a price in a drug lab of $150,000 to $250,000 .... In the legitimate world, it's only worth $1,400," Hill said. "That's the wake-up call that wow, you've got a problem."
Last year alone, police announced the dismantling of an international crime network responsible for more than $100 million worth of cocaine, meth and Ecstasy being moved from the Toronto area to Australia; cops raided what was believed to be the biggest meth operation ever in the GTA -- then uncovered a large Ecstasy lab within the same Mississauga industrial complex; and the White House warned that Canadian criminals were dumping meth-laced Ecstasy on the American market to drive up demand.
"I'm going to suggest to you that the majority of synthetic drugs being produced in Canada is for export," Hill said. "We do not have the base, the consumer base to even remotely think about consuming the illicit drugs that are being produced in this country.
"The level of cooperation amongst the criminal element is at an all-time high. So yeah, the drugs itself are produced for export, but the crime, the Canadian-based criminal enterprises, work on an international stage when it comes down to the marketing of these drugs.
They produce for a good reason: To make money. Out the door, multiple countries, make a lot of money in doing it."
Tackling such a problem will require "more troops on the ground" and cooperation from the highest levels of all governments, Hill said.
"We have to do some sobering reflection of what we have in place and what other countries have in place and where is their problem at and where is ours at? Why are we a source country? Why are we a leading source country? That's not acceptable," he said.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he worried the UN report would send the message that Canada is a good place in which to do this business.
"We have to send the exact opposite message," he said.
For the second time this week, Nicholson appealed to the opposition Liberals in the Senate to pass Tory crime legislation that cracks down on drug dealers and manufacturers, for example by establishing minimum sentences.
Five years ago, Hill likely would have said Canadian crime syndicates were gaining a steady foothold in synthetic drug production, he said.
"Today that's not the case. Because they're not gaining; they've gained. They're well established and not going away too soon. We'll have to deal with this matter for years to come."