Joint Effort Needed To Halt Cross-border Drug Trade
The relationship between the United States and Canada of late has been tumultuous. However, in the midst of bitter exchanges and more recent positive developments on trade, an opportunity exists to help save lives and protect our respective borders. It’s time that both countries work together to face a new common threat posed by illegally imported fentanyl, a borderless killer. It’s an area of collaboration that would strengthen the efforts of U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies to address this crisis. After more than 30 years in law enforcement, I know firsthand how the gang-backed trafficking of illicit narcotics from foreign countries, such as China, poses a direct threat to communities in Canada and in the United States. Fentanyl, in particular, is a synthetic opioid used to lace cocaine, heroin, counterfeit opioids and other counterfeit medicines, with devastating effect. Last year alone, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl led to nearly 30,000 overdose deaths in the United States and more than 4,000 in Canada. Stemming the drug flow has been difficult for several reasons. For instance, in an investigation in Canada last year, authorities discovered a pill press in a Calgary narcotics laboratory capable of producing 18,000 fake OxyContin pills per hour. The pills contained no oxycodone; they were filled with fentanyl, almost guaranteeing the overdose of the eventual recipients. The sophistication and scale of these operations are possible because of the backing they enjoy through gangs with connections to China, as well as the notorious Hells Angels, a gang both the United States and Canada have designated as an organized crime syndicate. Canada does not simply have to worry about infiltration; we worry about the long-term threat. In the past, gang violence was sporadic, less systemic. Historically, Canada has successfully tackled organized crime. But now with the proliferation of street gangs and the tremendous profit fentanyl trafficking offers, Canadian gangs have returned and set up shop to stay. They establish front businesses, launder money and pose as otherwise law-abiding citizens. They take advantage of our country and try to put down roots to spread their poisonous wares across Canada and the United States. To address this imminent threat, U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies need to work closer together. First, we must raise public awareness of the danger of illicit drugs. According to the Canadian Intelligence Service, these drugs are the top source of income for organized criminals. As Statistics Canada Director General Lynn Barr-Telford recently noted, gang-related homicides have nearly doubled since 2013. Canadians are, by nature, a trusting, welcoming people. That is how we should remain. But we cannot pretend that our spike in gang violence, driven increasingly by trafficking in opioids, fentanyl and counterfeit drugs, will end without a concerted effort to educate and empower the public. Second, we must continue to enhance our intelligence-sharing efforts and bilateral joint task forces, since they are now more important than ever. Finally, we must reinforce our efforts to crack down on the dark web. The use of encryption techniques, virtually untraceable screen names and crypto payment methods such as Bitcoin have created a black market for illegal fentanyl sales that pose a threat for law enforcement. We have already experienced this with cocaine, methamphetamines and other illegal substances that have poured over our borders in years past. The lure of trafficking in illegal fake opioids and fentanyl from online sources will continue, given the significant financial incentive trafficking imported fentanyl provides. Our two countries should resist efforts to weaken our existing collaboration through drug importation proposals currently under consideration in the United States, which would widen the loopholes through which criminals can infiltrate the drug supply. The good news is that we know how to root out gangs, we have the right tools at our disposal and, most important, we have the will to undertake the task. It is time to deepen our partnership and face this threat together. The threat of fentanyl is new, but Canadians do not back down from dangerous, necessary tasks. We share this with our American neighbors. By working together, we will reduce the threat posed by fentanyl that ravages communities north and south of the U.S.-Canada border. Stated simply, we have no choice.