An influx of cocaine is expected to hit Canadian cities over the next two years due to an “explosion” of production following the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, an intelligence report obtained by Global News warns.
The Canada Border Services Agency document said that due to significantly increased drug manufacturing and instability associated with the Colombia peace process “it is expected that Canada will see increasing flows of cocaine.”
The de-classified Intelligence Advisory named Panama-based COPA Airlines, as well as courier companies, mail and ships, as “primary modes” of cocaine smuggling into Canada during the first half of 2017.
A heavily-redacted version of the report was released to Global News under the Access to Information Act. The name of the country that it said was experiencing a “cocaine boom” was removed from the document by the CBSA.
WATCH: Cocaine seizures across Canada
But the references to FARC, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the peace process make it apparent the report concerns Colombia, which finalized a deal with the guerrillas in 2016.
A 2017 White House report supported the border agency’s warning as the cultivation of coca — the plant used to make cocaine — rose 18 per cent to an all-time high of 188,000 hectares in 2016, up from 159,000 hectares in 2015.
Nearly 830 kilograms of cocaine was seized by border officials between Jan. 1 and May 25 last year, the report said. Police agencies in Ontario and Alberta made record cocaine seizures, as the OPP netted 1,062 kilograms of the drug valued at $250 million in one investigation and Alberta CBSA seized 84 bricks of suspected cocaine weighing almost 100 kilograms.
Paul Thorne, a former Superintendent with Peel Police in charge of Pearson Airport, said an increase in cocaine trafficking will be a “multi-pronged” problem for both security agencies and health officials.
“I could see this impacting the health world, the enforcement world and it will also speak to bigger issues about security at international airports,” said Thorne, who is also a co-founder of the private security firm ICEN Group. “What do we worry about when see a tidal wave of cocaine? We worry about increased use, improper use or increased death.”
Thorne said as police agencies become more focused on fighting the scourge of opioids, markets for other drugs could expand rapidly.
“What is more important to the government right now? Is it the opioid crisis or is it going to be the cocaine issue?” he said. “The best way to deal with this is not to let it into your country at all.”
A spokesperson for the CBSA said the agency works closely with “its domestic and international law enforcement partners” to ensure the safety of Canada’s border.
“The CBSA stays current on global trends and patterns and shares key information with domestic and international partners,” said Jayden Robertson in an email. “The Agency ensures its frontline border services officers are well equipped to detect and interdict illegal substances from entering Canada.”
Warnings of a spike in cocaine on Canadian streets comes amid the on-going opioid crisis that has gripped provinces across the country. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimated there were upwards of 4,000 opioid related deaths in 2017.
Ontario data shows a surge in opioid-related deaths with 1,053 from January to October 2017, compared with 694 during the same time period in 2016. In B.C., roughly 1,400 people died of an illicit drug overdose in the province in 2017.
And while the crisis has largely focused on illicit fentanyl, provincial health agencies and frontline workers have warned about the increase of street drugs like cocaine testing positive for powerful opioids. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, cocaine remains the highest risk drug and accounted for nearly 50 per cent of deaths in the province between 2015 and 2016.
“Any threat of increased availability of substances is bad news for the health and safety of Canadians,” said Michael Parkinson, a drug strategy specialist in Waterloo Region. “We’ve seen surges of overdoses due to people using cocaine.”
Federal and provincial governments have undertaken a number of measures in the fight against overdose deaths, including supervised injection sites for drug users and increased access to the rescue medication naloxone.