The increasing power of transnational organized crime along the Canada-U.S. border means cross-border co-operation among law enforcement is more important than ever, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Friday.

Farnworth attended a conference of policing agencies from both sides of the border in Esquimalt to discuss “the challenges that we’re both facing and how we’re dealing with them.”

“We have got a lot of issues at the border — whether it’s weapons going both ways, the smuggling issue that’s been in the news,” he told Postmedia News. “So there’s a lot of … common interests, particularly when it comes to organized crime.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced human smuggling charges against two men who allegedly transported Mexican nationals from B.C. to Washington state on freight trains. American officials also said there had been a spike in human smuggling from Canada to the U.S. over the last year.

Peace Arch border lineup
The U.S.-Canada Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey.Photo by Les Bazso /PNG files

Farnworth said “it’s kind of hard to say which transnational organized crime groups are behind” the human smuggling.

“I think there’s a combination of factors that have helped it to … increase,” he said, adding that the problem led in part to the recent federal government decision to reimpose visas for most Mexicans. “I suspect it’s gangs seeing an opportunity both here and having links with organized groups, either down in the States, but also in Mexico.”

Washington state Patrol Chief John Batiste said Mexican cartels have expanded their operations along the Canada-U.S. border.

“In the state of Washington and across … the U.S., we’re seeing cartels in actuality be responsible for what we feel is a lot of the illegal activities taking place,” said Batiste, who also attended Friday’s forum.

The cartels have now “set up shop” within his state to produce fentanyl with the assistance of local crime groups. In some cases, they’re bringing in their own experts, Batiste said.

“They’re all fighting for turf and territory and the ability to move product and, of course, gain from a profit standpoint,” he said.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald said the same trend is happening in B.C. in terms of fentanyl and methamphetamine production.

RCMP deputy commissioner Dwayne McDonald
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald.Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

And he said the annual forum, which was the first held since COVID-19 began in 2020, allows U.S. and Canadian agencies “to share best practices and crime trends.”

“It’s been really beneficial to each individual agency that’s involved, but also to our integrated teams that we work with,” said McDonald, who heads B.C.’s E Division.

On top of illegal smuggling operations, the forum looked at trends in illicit firearms. While the U.S. has traditionally been a key source for B.C. crime guns, homemade 3D-printed “ghost guns” have become a big problem in both countries.

“We’ve certainly seen a proliferation of those here in British Columbia,” McDonald said, adding that other firearms are still being used by gangs.

“But it’s increasingly becoming the better profit margin product for organized crime to produce those weapons. And as you know, with the internet, you can get these materials and printers anywhere. They’re cheap, and the … electronic software files that you need to be able to put them in the computer and print them are easily accessible. You can get them in a matter of minutes online.”

Components for ghost guns are being smuggled across the border “because they’re, by and large, easier to smuggle in or easier to conceal, and in some cases aren’t illegal to import, so I think you’ll see more of that,” he said.

Postmedia recently did an investigation into the increasingly international links of B.C. gangs, including their role in smuggling Mexican meth to Australia and New Zealand through the Port of Vancouver, which like other Canadian ports, has no dedicated police force.

McDonald said a variety of smuggling methods would be used to get the meth from Mexico to B.C.

“The different organized criminal groups that we deal with are well-versed not only in commercial truck transport, (but also) rail, sea, the containers and the ports,” he said. “We’ve acknowledged and are making efforts to address those issues in port security.”

McDonald said that B.C. chiefs of police are working with the federal government to try to address port policing issues.

“But I think unfortunately, there are multiple pipelines that can be utilized by organized crime if they put their mind to it.”

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