Major drug bust a sign of things to come

RCMP officers made several drug-related stings in Inuvik and Fort McPherson last week after encountering a suspicious driver on the Robert Campbell Highway.

RCMP officers made several drug-related stings in Inuvik and Fort McPherson last week after encountering a suspicious driver on the Robert Campbell Highway.

An Edmonton man was arrested, a lucrative amount of cocaine and marijuana was seized, and an SUV, modified to hide drugs, was taken in by police in three separate takedowns over the weekend.

And it all started with a nervous driver outside of Faro.

The driver, who was speeding along the highway Thursday, was travelling north when Yukon RCMP pulled him over.

His behaviour was suspicious and his story didn’t add up, said police spokesperson Sgt. Don Rogers. But there wasn’t enough evidence to explore the vehicle, and the man was allowed to drive away.

The Yukon cops quickly called their counterparts in Inuvik, who began making connections with the usual suspects in the small city’s drug trade.

The deal went down, the money was exchanged, and the suspected delivery guy headed out of town.

But when the driver was making his way back through Fort McPherson, police were waiting.

The RCMP seized an SUV altered with hidden compartments and an sizable amount of money. Police have refused to disclose the sum. The driver was arrested but released soon afterward.

Meanwhile, RCMP found a kilogram of cocaine and 5.4 kilograms of marijuana at one location in Inuvik.

In another part of town, they arrested 19-year-old Keith Hawkins, from Edmonton, for possession of crack cocaine they allege he was going to traffic.

RCMP wouldn’t divulge Hawkins’ role, but all three events were connected, said Inuvik Staff Sgt. Cliff McKay. The investigation is ongoing and more arrests may be forthcoming.

While hailed as a significant catch, the lucky break won’t be enough for northern RCMP to fight off a predicted rise in organized crime across the North.

Currently, there’s only one national intelligence officer handling all three territories.

All members of the RCMP gather intelligence, said Sgt. John Sutherland, the national intelligence officer for the Arctic region. But his job is to organize it, study it and figure out the RCMP’s top priorities. Sutherland, who’s been at the job for 10 years, reports back to Ottawa with his findings.

It’s a lot of work for one guy, but Sutherland’s about to get some help.

Thirty new intelligence staff – including intelligence officers, analysts and support staff – will be placed in the North over the next few years. This boost in northern forces is part of a funding plan internally named Project Phoenix, created by senior RCMP executives to beef up Canada’s intelligence phalanx last year.

The shift from one to 30 staff on the northern intelligence file is an indication of how much Canada is preparing for a boom in illegal trades in the Arctic.

This update is meant to catch up with advances in communications that have shifted organized crime’s playgrounds. Traditional trades, like illicit drugs, have become more complex while new markets have been created, such as debit and financial fraud.

For a place like Inuvik – ground zero for the Mackenzie gas project – the extra intelligence work will likely go a long way.

McKay describes Inuvik as “a hub for distribution to all the other points in northern communities that surround us.

“It gets in here and ends up being flown out on the smaller airlines where there are no real checks done,” he said.

Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik and Paulatuk are all within the realm of Inuvik’s drug trade.

“A good portion of these drugs were probably destined for these communities,” he said.

Drugs in the North get a higher markup, especailly in remote communities. A kilogram of cocaine could fetch as much as $170,000 and 5.4 kilograms of marijuana could sell for $50,000.

There’s already more going on in Arctic waters than you’d think.

In September 2006, a Romanian man with ties to human smuggling and drug trafficking rings made a fourth attempt to enter Canada by docking in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, according to an article on northern security in the RCMP Gazette.

A year later, a boat that had cleared customs in Halifax went to Greenland to pick up suspected Norwegian Hell’s Angels and then landed in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, illegally.

RCMP officers, in a region without any permanent border guards, made the arrests.

The national police force is now preparing for the increased drug trafficking that will likely follow unprecedented economic growth in the Arctic’s tiny hamlets.

“If a pipeline goes through in 2016, what will the impact of that be?” said Sutherland, citing the Mackenzie and Alaska gas pipeline projects.

“What is the impact of the diamond industry?” he said. “All of these affect the economic integrity of Canada.”

Sutherland is currently working on a report, commissioned in March 2008, on the state of organized crime in the North.

It should be ready for headquarters by the middle of next year, he said.

Organized criminals are already setting down roots in Inuvik, said McKay, who predicts a lot more drug activity as the economy there grows.

“They know there’s going to be people up here and they’re going to have lots of money,” said McKay.

“So it’s a great business venture for them.”

Contact James Munson at