The head of the RCMP unit responsible for fighting organized crime says Canada is not just a significant producer of fentanyl — we also export it.
Organized crime groups in Canada are using precursor chemicals to produce the deadly drug for both the domestic market and for sales abroad, Mathieu Bertrand said in an interview with CBC’s The House airing Saturday.
“Sadly, Canada is a producing country of fentanyl and synthetic opioids. Not only are we a producing country, we’re an exporting country,” Bertrand told host Catherine Cullen.
Bertrand, chief superintendent of Serious and Organized Crime & Border Integrity at RCMP Federal Policing, said that while Canada has a problem with fentanyl imports, domestic production is what alarms police most at the moment. The fact that gangs in Canada are exporting fentanyl means either that there’s a glut on the market here or there are more lucrative markets abroad, he added.
The House12:03RCMP sheds light on Canada’s illicit drug trade
“Our collaborative efforts in law enforcement in Canada are to address the domestic production, because it is significant,” he said.
The toxic drug crisis is killing an average of 21 people every day in Canada. Fentanyl is involved in the vast majority of those deaths. During a visit to Thunder Bay, Ont., earlier this year, The House spoke to residents about the prevalence of gangs in the city and the lucrative domestic market there.
Most of the 600-plus organized crime groups assessed by the RCMP’s criminal intelligence branch are involved in the drug trade, Bertrand said.
“Twenty-one per cent of those groups are involved with substances that are responsible for the overdose crisis that we’re faced with now,” he added.
The federal government recently issued new regulations to classify certain chemicals needed to make fentanyl as formal precursors. The regulations allow law enforcement to take action against the illegal use, importation or distribution of those key ingredients. The U.S. and Canada also agreed earlier this year to strengthen a cross-border partnership on drug trafficking.
Bertrand said that collaboration is key to fighting back against the fentanyl trade.
The role of China
Bertrand cited Australia and New Zealand as known destinations for Canada-made fentanyl.
Some Asian countries supply key ingredients for Canadian-made fentanyl via shipments through South American countries or the United States, he said.
A law enforcement roundtable in 2021 noted a tenfold increase in precursor chemicals seized by the Canada Border Services Agency, and said that most of the chemicals come from China and Hong Kong.
The U.S. announced in October it was imposing sanctions and laying charges against a number of Chinese individuals and companies they allege are responsible for illegal fentanyl distribution in the United States.
“We know that this global fentanyl supply chain, which ends with the deaths of Americans, often starts with chemical companies in China,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
During a recent meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two agreed to once more cooperate on cracking down on fentanyl, following a multi-year suspension of those efforts.
China and Canada agreed to collaborate on combating fentanyl distribution back in 2016.
“As you know, the political situation between the two countries right now is somewhat strained. I think we can say it’s complicated,” Bertrand said.
He added there are RCMP liaison officers on the ground in China working on the issue, and previous regulations “had a significant positive impact on the drug situation.”
But efforts to disrupt the fentanyl supply chain face challenges, he said.
“One of the challenges is that a lot of these precursors are not illegal,” he said.
Bertrand said the fight against fentanyl production in Canada is only one aspect of efforts to reduce the number of overdose deaths.
“The opioid crisis is more than a law enforcement issue,” he said.
“I think we have to turn our minds to the demand and what we can do to ensure that individuals are not seeking out these substances — [that] they appreciate and understand how dangerous, and I would say how deadly they are.”