The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Australian drug trade 'high-reward' for Canadian criminals: police

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There is an increasing Canadian presence in the Australian drug scene, where traffickers brave harsh enforcement for large profits in a "high-risk, high-reward" market, authorities say.

The Australian Crime Commission reports that most of the cocaine brought into the country comes from Chile, with Canada second, climbing three spots since 2010.

The numbers accompany a spate of Canadian-linked drug incidents during the past year, including the conviction in June of a Canadian man who tricked an elderly Australian couple into becoming drug mules.

"Even though it may be logistically complex to get illicit drugs to Australia, (traffickers) feel the expense is worth it because of the high prices they can obtain if successful," Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

Estimates of the street value of the drug vary between police jurisdictions within Canada, but Australian authorities say a kilogram of cocaine there can fetch up to $250,000, which could be up to five times higher than the price in Canada.

A spokesman for a British Columbia multi-agency initiative said Canadian criminals do not produce cocaine, much of which comes from South America.

"They'll try to buy or barter for a kilo or however many kilos of cocaine, and then, because it's all about making money, they look to see where they can make the most," said Sgt. Lindsey Houghton of the Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit.

"Smuggle it into Australia... they can get three, four, five times the price."

He said drug supply is short in Australia because of strong enforcement and the country's location — it is far from where cocaine is predominantly produced.

"The Australian police have been really successful in disrupting, suppressing criminal groups," Houghton said.

Canadian traffickers affiliate themselves with local gangs, but sometimes rope in Canadian expatriates, Houghton said. Canadian drug runners have "significant connections" with Australian outlaw biker gangs and other criminal organizations, the Australian Crime Commission said.

To combat their operations, the RCMP said it holds joint investigations with Asian and Australian police. The Mounties also have a liaison based in Australia's capital of Canberra and an intelligence analyst "out-posted" to Australian Federal Police, the Australian agency said.

Houghton's unit, which comprises RCMP and provincial and municipal police, was involved last year in dismantling what they called a major Canada-Australia drug network.

Dan Werb, director of the B.C.-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, said legalization of marijuana in some American states last year could have sparked an increase in Canadian drug activity elsewhere. Canadian-produced illegal marijuana is now facing intense competition from legal marijuana in those states, so dealers in Canada may be looking toward harsher drugs and other export markets, Werb said.

"What is happening to all those people who are involved in the illegal drug trade?" he said.

"People simply exiting the illegal drug trade? That's probably unlikely. Are they potentially moving to other trafficking routes? Australia may be an attractive place."

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