Article by Aileen Zangouei, York Region
Investigators with Ontario Provincial Police have charged 16 people with a total of 218 charges in connection to a Canada-wide, multi-police force probe into the illegal manufacturing and distribution of contraband tobacco and illicit drugs.
The investigation, known as Project Cairnes, took off in July 2018 when the OPP Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Team began an investigation into the trafficking of contraband tobacco from a manufacturing facility operated on a Six Nations Territory.
The investigation revealed the tobacco was being assembled into contraband cigarettes at this facility, which would then be trafficked throughout parts of Ontario and Canada, including British Columbia, where it was sold on the street, police said.
The accused are closely associated with members of traditional organized crime and other organized crime groups.
Investigators also uncovered drug trafficking networks that were responsible for large shipments of illicit cannabis on a weekly basis from British Columbia to Ontario.
The manufacturing facility, although located on Six Nations Territory, was operated by an organized crime group from the Greater Toronto Area, and is unregulated and illegal, police said.
Residents of the Six Nations Territory have not seen any investment into their communities from the profits of this illegal operation, and “it has in no way benefited the community”, police said.
During the project, investigators also identified a cocaine and fentanyl trafficking network operating in the GTA. As a result of this, on April 18, six people were arrested and charged with 98 offences, including conspiracy to commit murder, firearms possession, drug trafficking and driving-related offences. Those arrests were made when a threat to public safety was uncovered, police said.
“While this investigation is aimed to dismantle this one particular group and their blatant disregard for the regulations surrounding tobacco, there are many operating simultaneously,” Det.-Insp. Jim Walker, of the OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau and Contraband Tobacco Enforcement Team, said.
Members of the Project Cairnes team executed 13 search warrants on June 1, with five of the locations based in Ontario, including Toronto, Oakville, Markham, Mississauga and Ohsweken. Other locations included Montreal, Que. and Richmond and Vancouver, B.C.
Project Cairnes has led to the seizure of:
– 11.5 million contraband cigarettes, which according to police, have a street value of around $924,000 in Ontario. In British Columbia, the street value is about $2.6 million;
• 1,714 lb of cannabis, with an estimated street value of $2.5 million;
• three handguns and associated ammunition;
• a cocaine press;
• 1.14 kg of cocaine;
• 10.2 kg of Piperidone;
• 1.3 kg of fentanyl;
• $236,750 in Canadian currency; and
• seven vehicles as offence-related property.
In addition to the warrants being executed, 10 more people were arrested and charged with 120 offences June 1. That brought the total numbers of arrests and charges in Project Cairnes to 16 and 218, respectively.