Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two on trial for cocaine

B.C. men charged in city's largest seizure of the drug

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Two B.C. men are on trial in Winnipeg, facing drug-related charges in what police say was the largest cocaine seizure in the city's history.

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

Police said the seizure was worth $2.55 million on the street, but an RCMP drug expert told court Wednesday it may have been worth more than $4 million if repackaged into single-ounce amounts.

They are charged with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and trafficking in a controlled substance.

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

The photos show the boxes of cocaine were mismatched in size and didn't have brand-name labelling -- unlike the ones containing the meat. 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 in the Court of Queen's Bench Wednesday. The size of the shipment was "very significant," he said.

Anderson was produced by the Crown to offer an expert opinion on the cocaine subculture and methods used by traffickers to import and distribute illegal drugs in Canada. The cocaine bricks seized ranged from 63 per cent pure cocaine to a 88 per cent, Anderson said.

He described the hierarchical structure of sophisticated drug networks, in which couriers play a role. His opinion is the drugs were packed at the point of origin for transport into Ontario.

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

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

Anderson also testified about possible concerns drug networks would have using so-called "blind" couriers, or ones who aren't aware of their illicit cargo. They present problems for drug groups for several reasons, he said, including they may stumble upon the shipment, panic and call police or try to steal it for their own gain.

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

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

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2014 B2

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