Canada Drug Trafficking Groups Expanding Mexico Ties

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After a spate of killings targeting Canadian drug traffickers in Mexico, there have been several indications that some of Canada’s criminal groups have now stabilized their drug supply chain and expanded operations, even increasing cocaine exports to Australia.

For a few years, Mexico was a deadly place for Canadian drug traffickers. According to a report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) accessed by The Canadian Press, at least ten Canadians with alleged criminal ties were shot or killed in Mexico between 2008 and 2012. The victims included three members of the United Nations gang — a criminal organization based in the province of British Columbia — and two men who were allegedly affiliated with the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

The deaths during this time period coincided with reports that Canadian criminal groups were increasing their direct connections in Mexico in order to cut the middlemen out of the cocaine trafficking chain.

Another indication that the Canadians may have solidified their connections with the Mexicans is that the country has reportedly increased its role as a transshipment point for European and Australia-bound cocaine shipments. The Australian Crime Commission has reported that Canada brings the second highest amount of cocaine into the country after Chile, which serves as the main transit point for cocaine headed to Australia. Canada has climbed up three spots on the list since 2010.

Officials told CBC News that Canadian drug traffickers had increased their presence in Australia mainly because of the price of cocaine in the country, where a kilo can be sold for up to five times as much as the going rate in Canada. Tim Wilson, a Canadian journalist based in Mexico who has reported extensively on organized crime, told InSight Crime that drug ties between the two nations are also bolstered by their shared status as Commonwealth countries and a similar gang structure, with biker gangs playing a key role in criminal activity. 

Canadian drug traffickers have also set up shop in the Philippines. In January, Filipino authorities raided several properties in capital city Manila and seized millions of dollars worth of cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. During the operation, four Canadians were arrested, two of whom were British Columbia gang members with ties to the Hells Angels and had reportedly used their Mexican cartel contacts to import cocaine.

The Storm Before the Calm

While ties between criminal groups in Mexico and Canada go back at least twenty years, the RCMP stated in its 2012 report that Canadian groups were looking to increase their cut of the profits by increasingly dealing directly with Mexican cartels. This information is supported by the US State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), which stated that while the United States continued to be the main transit point for cocaine trafficked into Canada, recent smuggling patterns indicated traffickers were increasingly shipping cocaine directly to the northern country.

This strategy initially came at a high price for some of Canada’s drug traffickers. Wilson told InSight Crime that the United Nations gang and the Hells Angels used to send low-level operatives or individuals who had lost favor with the group to handle business in Mexico, which helped produce the string of killings between 2008 and 2012.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Canada

However, things appear to have changed. The murder of Salih Abdulaziz Sahbaz, who was allegedly the United Nations gang’s main cartel contact in Mexico, appears to have been the last reported killing of a Canadian drug trafficker ordered by a Mexican cartel. Sahbaz was believed to have been working off a debt from the loss of a cocaine shipment when he was shot as many as nine times in Culiacan, Sinaloa in January 2012.  

His death was followed by those of two more Canadians with criminal ties: Thomas Gisby, head of the Gisby Crime Group, gunned down in a Nuevo Vallarta Starbucks in April 2012, and Moreno Gallo, a former associate of Montreal’s Rizzuto mob, shot in December 2013. However, the circumstances of both cases indicate the assassinations may have been ordered by rival Canadian groups rather than Mexican cartels, partly because both men had had previous trouble in Canada before their deaths. This means as many as two-and-a-half years have passed without a Canadian gangster in Mexico being targeted by a Mexican cartel.  

Wilson told InSight Crime that he believed the lack of murders targeting Canadian drug traffickers in Mexico in recent years — as well as the growth of cocaine trafficking in Australia — indicated that Canadian groups had learned how to deal with Mexican drug cartels and solidified their supply chain.  

“When the Canadian gangsters were getting killed in Mexico they were screwing up,” he told InSight Crime. “If we can say now that a year has gone by, there’s no shortage of cocaine in Canada […] then in the past year those individuals have become experienced. Things have been very quiet in the past year in terms of Canadian gangsters getting hurt in Mexico and to me that’s an indication that business is good.”

The Canada-Mexico Connection

According to Walter McKay, a former British Columbia police officer who has worked as a security consultant in Mexico, Canadian drug traffickers have had ties to their Mexican counterparts since at least the early 1990s. He told InSight Crime that the groups who worked with Mexican cartels included the Hells Angels, the United Nations gang, and another British Columbia gang called the Red Scorpions.

On the Mexican side, Wilson believes Canadian drug trafficking groups mainly do business with Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, an assertion that is supported by the location of the murders of the Canadian drug traffickers, most of whom were killed in areas where the Sinaloa Cartel has a significant presence.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

Canadian drug trafficking groups run the gamut from street gangs such as the Red Scorpions to highly sophisticated, large-scale operations like the one run by Jimmy Cournoyer, who was recently sentenced to 27 years in prison. Cournoyer, also known as the “King of Pot,” worked with the Sinaloa Cartel, the Hells Angels, the Rizzuto mob, and New York’s Bonanno crime family to traffic ecstasy and marijuana into New York from Canada, and cocaine northward from Mexico. In total, Cournoyer smuggled an estimated 109 tons of marijuana into the United States.

While Cournoyer’s operation was based in Montreal, most of the Canadian drug trafficking groups with ties to Mexican cartels operate out of British Columbia.

According to McKay, British Columbian groups are more involved in the transnational drug trade because of the Vancouver port, which receives shipments from around the world, and because the province’s coastline is extremely difficult to patrol. He told InSight Crime that much of the drug trafficking from Mexico was done via maritime routes, with drugs smuggled in fishing trawlers to the area off British Columbia’s coast and then brought to the mainland in smaller vessels like dinghies and speedboats.

British Columbia also grows a large portion of the country’s marijuana, which likely facilitated the rise of drug trafficking groups that have since expanded into cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics. In 2001, British Columbia’s Organized Crime Agency estimated that criminal groups — as opposed to independent growers — controlled 85 percent of the province’s marijuana trade (pdf).

In addition to British Columbia’s maritime routes, Wilson added that cocaine is also trafficked over land through the United States. “The Canadian-US border is the longest undefended border in the world,” he told InSight Crime. “It’s very easy to illegally cross. If you want to bring cocaine into Canada from Mexico — assuming you already know how to get into the United States — it’s really not hard.”

At least, not if you learn the rules of the trade in Mexico, which Canadian groups now appear to have grasped. 

 

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