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Mounties tout huge drug lab bust as major blow to B.C. gangs

Click to play video: 'Major drug bust targets Metro Vancouver gangs' Major drug bust targets Metro Vancouver gangs
The RCMP releasing details on a "multi-million-dollar blow" to Metro Vancouver crime groups. The massive drug bust being touted as just the latest in a series of stepped up measures to tackle the deadly gang war. Catherine Urquhart reports – May 13, 2021

Editor’s note: A previous version of the video above showed a business that is in no way connected to the drug bust in Port Coquitlam. The video has been corrected. 

B.C. RCMP are touting a large drug bust as a significant blow to regional gangs, but one drug policy consultant says it has the potential to make the problem worse.

RCMP officers and members of the federal Clandestine Lab Enforcement and Response Team raided the lab, hidden in a warehouse in the 1900 block of McLean Avenue in Port Coquitlam on April 19.

There, officers found a “sophisticated” laboratory setup, along with 37 kg of precursor chemicals, Surrey RCMP Supt. Aaron Paradis said.

Read more: ‘We will be relentless in our hunt’: Metro Vancouver police vow to crack down on gang activity

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Police estimated the lab was capable of producing up to 26 kg — or 13 million fatal doses — of pure fentanyl every week.

“This drug and chemical seizure has dealt a multi-million-dollar blow to organized crime and gangs in B.C., helping attack the income sources of those who put our communities at risk,” Paradis said.

Karen Ward, a drug policy adviser with the City of Vancouver, said a bust of that size would have unanticipated consequences on the street.

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B.C schools urged to rethink halt to police liaison program amid rising gang violence – May 12, 2021

Removing that quantity of fentanyl from circulation will result in the composition of street drugs — which are already highly toxic — to become even more uncertain and mixed, potentially leading to fatal overdoses, she said.

“It will only add to the chaos, to the volatility and the violence, because someone’s going to sell something,” Ward said.

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“It doesn’t really end when you seize product in a market of synthetic drugs. It will be replaced immediately by other synthetic drugs, substances of different composition. And that will cause people to die.”

Ward said the bust could also add fuel to the latest gang conflict, as criminals compete to take over the territory held by whoever lost the lab, or retaliate for unpaid debts related to the seized product.

Read more: Innocent bystander struck by bullet during fatal shooting in Burnaby

If the province seriously wanted to cool the gang conflict, it would implement safe supply on a wide scale, she argued.

“And by thinking of safe supply as a market intervention to put gangs out of business by making them unprofitable, not by thinking you can take their product — because that’s just not going to work.”

Surrey RCMP also used Thursday’s media availability to provide an update on its efforts to curb gang crime, amid a surge in brazen gang shootings and murders across the region in recent weeks.

Spokesperson Sgt. Elenore Sturko said the detachment has increased the number of officers deployed with the city’s gang unit, and were prioritizing gangsters who posed the highest risk to public safety.

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That work involves boosting curfew checks, targeted enforcement and vehicle stops, she said.

Police in Surrey are also deploying new technology, including automatic licence plate readers, strategically around the city.

The technology is capable of instantly reading multiple licence plates and comparing them against a database of stolen plates, warrants and vehicles of interest.

Read more: Man shot dead outside Vancouver airport, suspects at large

“This makes it more difficult for criminals to travel through Surrey undetected,” Sturko said.

“We are attacking this problem at every opportunity and we are meeting it with success on the streets.”

But for police to be effective, she said they still need people to reach out with tips and report suspicious incidents, stolen vehicles or stolen licence plates.

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There have been 10 shootings in the Lower Mainland in recent weeks, eight of them fatal, including the slaying of 28-year-old Karman Grewal just steps outside the departures terminal at the Vancouver International Airport.

The culprits in that killing also fired at a pursuing police vehicle as they fled, and remain at large.

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