Police swoop down on Kanesatake and Oka
38 arrested; Large pot bust ends 18-month investigation
Marijuana trafficking in Kanesatake has evolved over the past few years and has forged new ties between dealers on the territory northwest of Montreal and other organized crime groups, police alleged Tuesday.
Sûreté du Québec Insp. Lino Maurizio said investigators noticed the change during an investigation that produced the arrests of 38 people Tuesday following an 18-month investigation that targeted a group that allegedly used Kanesatake as a transit point for large quantities of marijuana ultimately destined for the U.S.
A past investigation, which generated many arrests in May 2009, focused on people who were growing pot on the many farms in Kanesatake in mass quantities. Maurizio said he believed that as a result of the 2009 investigation the alleged ringleader targeted in Tuesday’s police operation, dubbed Project Connectivity, was obliged to find marijuana produced outside of Kanesatake, Maurizio said.
“Project Connectivity was launched in January 2010 and established that a criminal organization based in Kanesatake spearheaded a major network involved in the trafficking of controlled substances, mostly marijuana and also cocaine and designer drugs,” he said.
Maurizio said marijuana supplied up the chain of the network was grown by groups based in the Montreal region and north of Montreal, including some who could move as much as 50 pounds of pot in one shot. Maurizio said the marijuana would be sent to “lieutenants” who worked under the alleged ringleader Tyron Canatonquin, 43, and were based in Kanesatake and Oka.
Canatonquin, 43, has a long criminal record with 37 case files dating back to 1987. They include convictions for hash and marijuana possession, assault, illegal possession of a firearm, conspiracy, assaulting a police officer and possession of the proceeds of crime. He was arrested with several people in 2000 as part of a different large-scale drug trafficking investigation and received a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Maurizio said some of the marijuana sent to Kanesatake during the Project Connectivity investigation was transported to Akwasasne with the goal of using that reserve’s shared border with the U.S. and Canada to smuggle the pot to the American side. Depending on its quality, and whether it was grown hydroponically or outdoors, marijuana grown in Quebec can sell for between $800 and $1,200 a kilogram. In the U.S., the Quebec-grown product can be sold for more than $4,000, Maurizio said.
“We focused on the Canatonquin organization because our intelligence told us – plus some information we got from the community – that his group is one of the more active in drug trafficking in the area,” Maurizio said he didn’t expect to make any huge drug seizures on Tuesday because the organization, for the most part, did not hold on to its stock for long.
“The investigation showed that a sample would be sent to Tyron Canatonquin. When he accepted the drugs, a couple of hours later, the stash would be sent to Akwasasne.”
More than 500 police officers from the SQ, RCMP and various First Nations police forces took part in Project Connectivity. Police expected to make 55 arrests in all, but 17 people remained at large as of late Tuesday. Thirteen search warrants were carried out, including four in Kanesatake and five in Oka, the municipality next to the territory. Charges of drug trafficking and conspiracy to do the same are expected to be filed against most of the people arrested in St. Jérôme court on Wednesday.
“More importantly, we have dismantled a major network and disrupted its capabilities to use aboriginal territories for criminal purposes. We want to send a strong message to the criminal organizations that are detrimental to the interests of the aboriginal communities and that present a direct threat to the safety of their residents. We can catch them wherever they are,” Maurizio said.
Normally, such large scale police operations are carried out after dawn, so they can be conducted in daylight and potentially catch the target of a search warrant off guard. But Tuesday’s operation began at 10 a.m.
“It was unusual but it was to ensure that most of the children (living at homes that were searched) had left (for school) so we’d had the least movement inside possible,” Maurizio said.
Sohenrise Paul Nicholas, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, said while he supports the police operation “in general,” he couldn’t understand why the focus of media attention was centred on his community alone.
He noted that search warrants were carried out in various municipalities near Montreal.
“Drug trafficking is not something we condone. This isn’t a community-wide event. This involves a small number of people here, yet this is drawing a lot of attention on us. It is not just a Mohawk problem.”
In reference to comments made at a police news conference about how people in Kanesatake felt intimidated by drug traffickers, Nicholas said he felt that things have improved.
“I think we have worked with the SQ on this and the dialogue has improved in our community.”
Through a release issued later Nicholas said the majority of people in Kanesatake are “concerned that the presence of such a large number of police, accompanied by journalists, contributes even more to the negative image of this community that Kanesatake people wish to improve.”
William Marsden of The Gazette contributed to this report
500 police raid Mohawk territories in anti-drug and organized crime operation
By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – Wed, 15 Jun, 2011
OKA, Que. – Fed up with the scourge of drugs within its borders, a tiny Mohawk community once at the centre of a historic standoff against police welcomed the Mounties on Tuesday, helping them carry out a massive crackdown on organized-crime.
Around 500 officers from the RCMP, provincial police and native peacekeeping forces conducted a number of searches and arrested dozens of suspects as a major anti-drug offensive swept into Mohawk communities around Montreal on Tuesday.
The police work that led to drug seizures and around 40 arrests started with tips from the people of Kanesatake, a community bedevilled in the past by violent responses to outside law-enforcement forces operating within its borders.
But the people of Kanesatake helped turn in some of their own because of drug activities that locals say continued to get worse.
The decision wasn’t taken lightly by some in the community of 1,200.
“I find it sad being so small a community and having people, our neighbours, family members, doing this,” said Michelle Lamouche, a chief of the Kanesatake council.
“But other people say that it was about time that it was done.”
Kanesatake, which no longer has its own peacekeeping force and relies on provincial police patrols, hasn’t been known to open the door to intensive law-enforcement help from the outside.
In 2004, protesters in Kanesatake burned their grand chief’s home to the ground and held 50 aboriginal police officers hostage after their leader tried to crush local organized crime. He was forced to flee the community for his own safety.
Kanesatake was also the site of the 1990 Oka Crisis, the historic, 78-day standoff between Mohawk protesters, police and the Canadian army.
But this time was different for many residents, Grand Chief Paul Nicholas insisted Tuesday.
“The community’s fed up with the drug use,” Nicholas said in front of the band council office, after police scoured several sites in Kanesatake.
“So if this raid translates down to less drugs being available, a lot of people will be satisfied with what happened.”
The police blitz also descended on sites in Akwesasne, Oka and Montreal in an operation that targeted 50 locations overall — but officers couldn’t immediately provide specifics on the quantity of drugs seized.
Police said the seizures primarily involved marijuana, but cocaine and designer drugs were also swept up in raids that rounded up about 40 of the 55 people targeted in the busts. Officers also found guns as well as outdoor and hydroponic marijuana grow operations.
Police credited the busts for dismantling a major organized-crime ring that had been operating inside the native communities and they thanked Kanesatake residents for the operation’s success.
“The residents of Kanesatake delivered a clear message,” Insp. Michel Arcand of the RCMP told reporters Tuesday in Oka, just outside the Mohawk community in a rural area west of Montreal.
“Organized crime does not belong in this community — violence and intimidation will no longer be tolerated.”
When asked how he thought some people in his community might react to the busts, Nicholas was guardedly optimistic there would be no backlash against those who spoke out.
“I hope that doesn’t happen, I can’t really guess at this point,” he said.
“It’s going to take some time to digest, I’m hoping the community will get past it and calm will remain in the community.”
There were reports of at least one minor scuffle involving a reporter Tuesday but, otherwise, there was no immediate word of any major incident.
“Minor confrontations I can understand — I think a lot of tension boils at these events,” Nicholas said.
Cpl. Luc Thibault said RCMP and provincial police worked with native police forces to help ensure they could handle the delicate operations on First Nations territories.
“It’s always delicate, but we have good co-operation with the (aboriginal) police force and the people working there,” Thibault said. “We have to be careful, everywhere we go security is first for everybody, including the public.”
He said the native communities welcomed the outside police help.
“We have a very good collaboration with aboriginal territories because naturally these people don’t want drugs and don’t want to see organized crime on their territory,” Thibault said.
Nicholas predicted locals will be surprised when they hear some of the names of those arrested, particularly in a community where just about everyone knows everyone else.
Lamouche, meanwhile, said Kanesatake needs help from Ottawa and the province to improve its social support network, especially to help neighbours who might be convicted with crimes following Tuesday’s raids.
“We need to also get help for those people because they are part of the community and one day or the other, they’ll be back,” she said.