By Marianne Curtis
Manitoba is becoming a haven for drug traffickers, marijuana grow-ops and organized crime, one of the RCMP’s top officials says.
Police made almost 1,100 drug seizures across the province last year, with many of the “hot spots” in more rural communities like Thompson, Portage la Prairie and The Pas. Out of fourteen communities listed, the City of Steinbach made the list at number ten with twenty-three major seizures taking place last year.
That’s about double the number from the previous year, RCMP assistant commissioner Bill Robinson said at a media conference in Winnipeg at a press conference Friday January 28.
Marijuana was the top drug seized, followed by cocaine, prescription and non-prescription drugs and ecstasy.
“You can grow 3,500 marijuana super trees, or super plants, in greenhouses in a rural location versus a small basement in the north end (Winnipeg), where are you going to go?” Robinson said.
More non-residents are being arrested, which means drug crackdowns in other provinces are likely driving criminals to find new locations in rural Manitoba to set up business, he said.
“We’ve got lots of land. We’ve got some very isolated locations with old farmyards where people can set up,” Robinson said, adding the province’s central location and highways makes it ideal for traffickers to move drugs across the country.
Manitoba Mounties have undertaken several large, high-profile drug raids in the last few years which have put a dent in operations, Robinson said. Police are also working with young people to educate them about the dangers of doing and dealing drugs.
“The sooner we get into the schools, the sooner we start talking about the issue with kids, the better chance we’re going to have of stopping this activity,” he added.
Federal and provincial politicians say they are doing what they can to stop the increasingly sophisticated drug trade. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said many of the issues raised by Robinson will be addressed when the government’s controversial omnibus crime bill becomes law.
The bill, which is now before the Senate, rolls nine separate bills into one that would see mandatory sentences for some drug crimes, a new act to deal with violent young offenders and restrictions on house arrest.
“We’re targeting those who traffic in drugs so that there are mandatory minimum prison sentences for those who feel that’s an appropriate way to make a living,” Toews said. “Small, rural conservative communities are not immune from the problem of drugs.”
The Trans-Canada Highway was named as the top “drug pipeline” in the province.