Supt Michel Aubin
Ecstasy Canada Inc?
Jul 15, 2008

In the Drug Situation Report – 2006, the RCMP presented for the first time the troubling fact that: “Within a two year period, Canada has reversed its Ecstasy supply pattern status from an import and ­consumer nation to a major ­production and export country.” ­Continued smuggling of the MDMA precursor chemical MDP2P from China to Canada in 2006 confirmed heightened domestic Ecstasy manufacture.

This house was destroyed when chemicals in the drug lab exploded. Adjacent homes were also damaged.

In an article entitled Altered Ecstasy from Canada Flooding U.S., the National Post (4 January 2008) reported that “the White House is blaming Canadian drug traffickers for flooding American cities with a pumped-up, addictive form of the club-drug Ecstasy and has issued a public health warning over the ­“dangerous new drug threat coming from Canada.” In fact, it appears that this type of “super” drug never existed and that John Walters from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy retracted on this issue. However, recent seizures – such as $2M in ecstasy pills from a Canadian in California, and $31M worth of drugs destined for Australia from Canada – indicate drug export remains a thriving trade.

FrontLine Executive Editor, Clive Addy, spoke with Superintendent Michel Aubin, the Acting Director General in charge of Drugs and Organized Crime at RCMP, to get an update on the situation and determine if indeed Canada is a major supplier of this and other drugs that would confer upon it the dubious title of “Ecstasy Canada Inc.”

Question 1: Thanks, Superintendent Aubin for agreeing to help us shed some light on this issue. This is troubling, as it appears that we ­continue to be seen as a major exporter of both ecstasy and cannabis with many of their newer and more dangerous deriv­atives. Did this trend continue and what, if any, special ­measures are being contemplated to reduce this?

Allow me to first thank FrontLine for taking the time to report upon this situation. Canada has been producing marihuana in excess of our domestic need, and exports to the U.S. were occurring – despite efforts by law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border to curb this problem. The most recent RCMP Drug Situation Report states that there has been a reduction – by half – in the number of seizures of cannabis by U.S. authorities along the Canadian/US border. We attribute this result to our increased surveillance, enforcement activities, and the corollary deterrence that this places on producers and distributors. Combined initiatives with our stakeholders in BC, as an example, have caused a large number of grow operations to move out of urban areas on the West Coast. It is important to keep in mind that, although we continue to export marihuana to the United States, we are a comparatively small provider.

In relation to the issue of ecstasy, our situation has reversed itself from that of an “importing and distributing” to a “producing and exporting” entity. More specifically, other countries such as Australia, United States, Japan, New Zealand are all reporting seizures of ecstasy ­originating from Canada. For the benefit of your readers, it is important to note that ecstasy is a synthetic drug produced from a number of chemical products, referred to as “precursors,” which are either diverted from their intended legitimate use or are directly purchased for the production ecstasy.

The production of ecstasy has always included the presence of many byproducts, including methamphetamine. Nowadays, the substitution of precursor chemicals due to unavailability could affect the number and variety of these byproducts.

Home-based synthetic drug lab. (Photo: RCMP)

The RCMP, in partnership with other agencies such as CBSA, closely screen for the importation of these precursors. As an example, a recent major seizure (of some 3 tons), capable of producing 30 million ecstasy tablets, was effected at one of our major ports.

With our US counterparts and other stakeholders, we have increased significantly the surveillance of component chemicals originating from various sources. This is a broadening of the National Chemical Diversion Program that has been in effect since 1995. However, we have recently increased capacity and resources as part of our National Anti-Drug Strategy. Further, we have broadened the expertise of our drug investigators through training on these matters. With international partners in the US, Europe and Asia, we also take part in working groups of law enforcement, other government agencies and private industries such as the National Chemical Diversion Working Group and our work with the Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the diversion of domestic source chemicals in the last two years. As well, we are partners in the US National Methamphetamine and Chemical Initiative along with Mexico, Germany, India and China. It is obvious to us all that, in the matter of ECSTASY and methamphetamines, South East Asian crime cartels dominate the market in chemical precursor products and the production of the drugs in clandestine labs across our country.

By focusing our efforts and capitalizing on our partnerships, there have been minimal increases in the number of illicit drug producing labs over the past five years. Although the production size of these labs has increased, the RCMP has been very successful at disrupting very significant organized crime groups profiting from synthetic drug production over the last year. Many of these matters are still before the courts and, therefore, we cannot provide further details. However, many of these operations that were interdicted contained pill presses capable of outputting millions of tablets. In 2005 and 2006 the RCMP intercepted and seized several tons of precursor chemicals thus preventing over 65 million dosages of Ecstasy from reaching our communities.

Question 2: Can you elaborate on the mechanisms and ports of entry used by these cartels and what actions you have taken and what you consider needs to be done yet to thwart both the external and internal traffic in these drugs and their components?

Canada is not a precursor chemical producing country. The diversion of these chemicals for illicit purposes often begins in source countries such as China and India. The RCMP has liaison officers in both countries working hand in hand with their law enforcement counterparts and private industry to ensure that these chemicals reach only legitimate companies. Many poten­tial chemical diversions have been thwarted in the source country through our global efforts to monitor the trade in precursor chemicals, ­preventing them from ever reaching Canada’s shores.

Ecstasy seized by BC RCMP officers. 

Here in Canada, the RCMP works with CBSA to ensure that chemicals reaching our shores are destined for legitimate trade. Our monitoring allows us to find shipments of precursor chemicals misdescribed on shipping documents. The RCMP also works in partnership with Health Canada and the Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors to prevent such diversion of domestic chemicals. This program has been a success.

The fight against the production of ecstasy is not undertaken solely by the RCMP. Most major police agencies in Canada and the U.S. are also involved.

Question 3: The 2006 report mentioned air and marine modes of trafficking as well as land based tractor-trailer. Recent US Customs and Border patrol reports also speak of continuing illegal drug smuggling cross-border. It would seem then that a mobile border patrol (intelligence-led) with a marine component supported by surveillance capacity would be essential to interdicting this activity. Perhaps, inland marine interdiction is also required. For instance, Commissioner Elliott recently described marine surveillance on the Great Lakes-St Lawrence system as 'inadequate'. What might you be contemplating or requesting as a concept in this realm with our neighbors to the South to correct this?

One of our most effective initiatives has been the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET). It is viewed by all police forces involved as an ongoing and critical component of our international border integrity program.

It is recognized nationally and internationally as the most effective and efficient means of harmonizing local, national and international law enforcement efforts to protect the citizens of Canada and the US from potential threats of terrorism and organized crime.

This integrated, multi-agency law enforcement initiative facilitates intelligence sharing, and enhanced cooperative efforts among the core partners: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Border Services Agency, US Customs and Border Protection/Office of Border Patrol, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Coast Guard. It also encourages the involvement of municipal, provincial, state, federal and First Nations’ law enforcement agencies, ­stakeholder agencies, and related government departments. Under the IBET program, unprecedented integration has been established and critical intelligence is developed and shared on ­targeted cross-border criminal activity. IBET teams are multidisciplinary (weapons, drug and dangerous goods trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling) in nature – they can thus confront any type of criminal activity crossing the border.

The IBET is intelligence-led and much more effective than simply patrolling the border hoping for a chance encounter with criminal or security activity.

Pill stamps seized in drug bust by RCMP in BC.

The links between place, crime, control measures and national identity are becoming more complicated, especially at the border. To a greater extent than ever before, crime and control measures are not always linked to one national ­territory. Instead, criminals exploit international borders, turning the seams between states into operational barriers for effective law enforcement.

During August and September 2007, 50 

RCMP and United States Coast Guard officers operating in support of existing Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) conducted a pilot project intended to change the course of ­traditional policing along the shared maritime boundary between Canada and the United States. For two months, in two locations, these officers became “shipriders” – riding together on the same patrol boats and fully empowered by the laws of both Canada and the United States to enforce the laws of both countries.

“Shiprider,” as the program is called, intends to remove the international maritime boundary as a barrier to policing and to deny smugglers and other criminals the illicit use of shared waters. Prior to “Shiprider,” two vessels and crews, one Canadian and one U.S., were needed along the boundary line. Now, one crew of cross-designated and jointly trained officers with authority and jurisdiction on either side of the border can patrol both Canadian and U.S. waters, pursuing suspect vessels wherever they flee and working with land-based patrol officers and investigators in support of established IBETs. Negotiations to institute a permanent “Shiprider” program continue.

In addition, Federal Budget 2008 provided funding for the establishment of a permanent Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence Seaway Marine Security Operations Centre (GL/SLS MSOC), designed to ­further enhance the security of Canada’s marine transportation system and borders. The MSOC includes, and serves, the core ­federal partners from the Departments of National Defense, Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP. The ­primary function of the MSOC is to enable all to work ­collaboratively to prepare and distribute consistent, timely and useable marine intelligence, information and data to all enforcement agencies. MSOCs on the east and west coast are being fully developed under DND, while the Great Lakes/St.Lawrence Seaway MSOC is led by the RCMP.

 In summary, the RCMP has a border security strategy that is predicated on maximizing the use of intelligence, ­technology, partnerships and human resources to target ­individuals and organizations exploiting potential gaps along the border.

Question 4: What is your estimate of total production in Canada of ecstasy and, of that, how much is consumed internally, exported to the U.S. and/or exported elsewhere?

Home production drugs sealed.

It’s impossible for me to provide you with a pertinent estimate. However, it is fact that we have become and remain a producing and exporting country while meeting domestic demand. That being said, it is also important to note that the RCMP is focusing in on this problem nationally, and has undertaken specific initiatives to investigate criminal groups involved and eradicate the supply of amphetamine stimulates on the domestic and international market.

Question 5: What major trends in illegal drugs generally do you consider the greatest threat to Canadian security and the health of Canadians now and in the coming three years? Are we really “Ecstasy Canada Inc.” in the eyes of our allies and neighbors, and what does this underground drug economy do to our legitimate one in these more stressful times?

Criminal groups focus their effort on the most lucrative activities. Our studies show that these groups rely on drug related activities for upwards of 80% of their income. The RCMP has identified the production of ecstasy as a major drug concern and, in turn, is focusing its efforts on the criminal groups involved. It is working with domestic and international ­partners to restrict the supply of the precursor chemicals.

 Regardless of the drug produced, trafficked, or exported, the reality is they all have various adverse effects on the consumer’s health. In addition, lab operators are using more varied and dangerous methods of amphetamine synthesis. These labs contain explosive, flammable, ­reactive, carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. The threats from explosion, fire, poison gas, groundwater contamination and hazardous byproducts associated with “Clan Labs” are likely to increase with the proliferation of synthetic drug manufacture. There have been a number of cases of exploding labs in residential or other high-density areas.

Who could guess there was a Lab on the 4th floor of this apartment building?

These drugs also have a significant impact on our economy. They cause increased expenditures on health care for the addicted and their families, on law enforcement agencies who investigate the ­criminal groups involved, on the costs to the justice system and on the ­correctional services, to name but a few. Criminal organizations and their members also access our sound financial ­systems to launder their ill-gotten gains. They do so by ­corrupting individuals within the financial industry. This is a daily challenge for law enforcement. To combat it requires not only our coordinated efforts, but also the alertness and involvement of all in its prevention.

The three pillars of our National Anti-Drug Strategy, are Awareness, Treatment and Enforcement. Law enforcement is most effective when it can count on the assistance of the public at large.

© FrontLine Security 2008