A 14-month long investigation that disrupted two alleged Yellowknife cocaine trafficking networks and led to charges against 15 suspects is the result of the RCMP’s continued crackdown on the illicit drug trade, says a Mountie close to the probe.
“We have undertaken a very assertive enforcement strategy, which is underscored by the amount of arrests and charges you have seen in recent years,” said Staff Sgt. Dean Riou, a member of the territory’s Federal Investigations Unit (FIU).
Mounties announced on Monday that over a dozen people, including seven Yellowknife residents, had been charged following the completion of Project Gloomiest – a FIU-led probe into suspected cocaine trafficking launched in September 2017.
Of the 15 people charged, eight were arrested and released last month, while arrest warrants have been issued for seven others. Fourteen of the 15 charged, including 23-year-old Toufic Chamas, the probe’s primary target, face cocaine trafficking charges.
Mounties say the police operation netted two firearms and 1,425 grams of what is purported to be cocaine. The drugs, according to Riou, were seized without warrant over the course of investigation.
Riou said RCMP believe a second, separate cocaine ring targeted in Project Gloomiest was disrupted to “some extent,” as a result of the operation.
“They will certainly face challenges if they decide to continue their illegal business in Yellowknife,” said Riou.
The suspects won’t be distinguished by their alleged affiliations to each group, as they have “court cases pending,” said Riou.
Monday’s news release from Mounties stated some of the individuals charged are alleged to have trafficked “substitute substances” marketed as cocaine. While the practice of pushers padding their drugs with powerful but cost-efficient alternatives, including fentanyl, has been seen by law enforcement in recent years, Riou said that’s not the case here.
“We believe some of the individuals were trafficking benign (non-controlled) substances that they were representing as cocaine, in addition to trafficking actual cocaine,” he said.
As the prosecution for those charged in Project Green Manalishi – another major drug trafficking sweep mounted by NWT RCMP’s federal arm in 2015 – winds down, the courts have acknowledged the trend of out-of-town dealers, drawn to the North’s lucrative market, setting up shop in the territory and its capital.
While tackling the problem – and the drug trade in general – is a policing matter, Riou said solving it requires a look at its social roots.
“The main draw to the North for these networks is the strong demand for cocaine,” he said. “This is a societal problem, not simply a police issue.”
Riou said RCMP is coupling its assertive enforcement approach to drug enforcement with inter-agency collaborations to address the underlying issues associated with the sale and consumption of illegal drugs.
“We do work with a number of government and social agencies that have a wellness mandate to assist them helping those in the community who struggle with addictions issues.”
FACT FILE: What’s in a name?
Project Gloomiest is the third and “gloomiest” RCMP operation in a long line of investigations beginning with the letter “G.” Due to the division’s “G” designation – each province and territory is ascribed an identifying letter – every project-based investigation is given a title beginning with the “division letter” G.
Gloomiest follows Project Gloom and Project Gloomier, two other recent investigations led by the federal investigations unit.
Source: NWT RCMP FIU.