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Trial begins for duo accused in $2.55-M coke bust

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Two B.C. men accused in what police say was single largest cocaine seizure ever seen in Winnipeg have pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges and are now on trial in the Court of Queen's Bench.

Gurdarshan Singh Hansra, 51, and Tirath Singh Bal, 44, were arrested in July 2010 after police found 51 individual bricks of cocaine inside a commercial trucking trailer officers pulled over on the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Winnipeg.

Police said at the time the seizure was worth $2.55 million on the street, but an RCMP drug expert told court today it may have been worth more than $4 million if repackaged into ounce-level amounts and sold that way.

Bal was driving and Hansra riding shotgun at the time police intercepted the vehicle for a traffic-related infraction. They are presumed innocent of charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking and trafficking in a controlled substance.

Photos shown in court show the rear of the trailer had a few burnt-out running lights. The cocaine was found in boxes mixed in with pallets of grocery-store hams from Vancouver bound for Brampton, Ont.

The photos show the boxes containing the cocaine were mismatched in size and didn't have brand labelling — unlike the ones containing the meats. The pallets were also shrink-wrapped with plastic.

"I would put this at a very high level, if not the highest … in terms of what we see for volume," RCMP Sgt. Mark Anderson testified Wednesday. The size of the shipment was "very significant," he said.

Anderson, who is based in Edmonton, was produced by the Crown to offer expert opinion evidence on the cocaine subculture and methods used by drug-traffickers to import and distribute the illegal substance in Canada.

The bricks seized ranged from 63 per cent pure cocaine to a very high 88 per cent, Anderson said.

Anderson described the hierarchy of sophisticated drug networks, of which couriers play a key role.

His opinion is the drugs were packed in at the point of origin for transport into Ontario.

The shipment likely was not meant to fuel Winnipeg's drug trade directly, Justice Robert Dewar was told.

"The majority of that cocaine, if not all of it, was bound for Ontario," Anderson opined.

Anderson also testified about concerns drug networks would have using so-called "blind" couriers, or ones who aren't aware of their illicit cargo.

Blind couriers present problems for drug groups for several reasons, he said, including that they may stumble upon the shipment, panic and call police or try to steal it for themselves.

As well, Anderson said, using legitimate commercial transport trucks to ferry the drugs is beneficial for traffickers because of their "perceived legitimacy" when on the highways.

"They're already making the trip," he said of the commercial shipments.

The trial is slated to last seven days.


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