Where are the ingredients for the drugs coming from that bolster the drug trade in Surrey and other Lower Mainland communities and fuel drug-related violence?
CKNW traced the route of the so-called “precursor chemicals” used to make illicit synthetic drugs, and you may be surprised some are legally imported in to Canada.
Organized crime groups are manufacturing illicit chemical narcotics in British Columbia, and they’re getting their hands on some of those ingredients legally.
They are called “precursor chemicals,” defined by Health Canada as the following:
“Precursor chemicals are chemicals that are essential to the production of a controlled substance. Precursor chemicals have a wide legitimate use in the production of consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals, fragrances, flavouring agents, petroleum products, fertilizers and paints. For example, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, commonly used in cold and decongestant medicine, are precursor chemicals that are used to produce methamphetamine.”
Some precursors used to make meth and ecstasy were banned or regulated in 2003, but others like methylamine hydrochloride and phenacetin do not require a license or a permit for importation.
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It’s frustrating for people on the front lines like Dave Langlands of Surrey.
He’s a retired Canada Border Services Agency who spent 37 years monitoring what’s being brought in to the country through marine operations and air cargo.
“The problem is that it is not regulated or controlled. Methylamine hydrochloride and if you look at phenacetin, these are chemicals, some of them are schedule F drugs. Who in their right mind would import a 25 kgdrum of this stuff? But Health Canada doesn’t have it on any list.”
Langlands says he’s personally discovered large quantities of chemicals suspected to be headed for a clandestine labs.
“Years ago I found 1000 kg of methylamine hydrochloride during routine inspections when I was working at air cargo. And the people that we were dealing with, members of the RCMP, they believed, they were hoping it would be put on a list that would be controlled so people could not bring this stuff in, but my understanding is that even today, this stuff is coming in.”
And it turns out getting your hands is as easy as logging on to the internet.
Take methylamine hydrochloride, which can be used to make meth and it is not regulated or controlled by Health Canada.
With a few clicks of the mouse, CKNW was able to connect with AOPharm, a manufacturer and international distributor of chemicals based in China.
Representative Sabrina Lee told CKNW in an email the company could ship 25 kilograms for $1500 dollars US and it would even change the name of the chemical to Sodium isethionate – used to make soap.
When asked about inspections, Lee assured “please don’t worry about the custom inspection, we send many parcels to Canada every month by the name of Sodium isethionate” and the parcels were never inspected by Canadian officials.
Another China-based company Wuhan United Commercial Technology also told CKNW they could also change chemical names, and use discreet packaging.
Tightening the rules
Law enforcement agencies are calling for tighter controls to restrict the importation of these chemicals.
Abbotsford Police Deputy Chief Mike Serr is also the Chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police drug abuse committee.
“Some precursors actually have legitimate uses and others for the most part are just used in the production of synthetic opiods and other synthetic drugs. So one of the challenges for us in law enforcement is that when these are being imported in to the country, we may know, and in fact there has been cases where we know somebody is obtaining them for completely illegal purposes, for the purposes of producing illegal drugs, we have zero authority to be able to stop them for example at the border by CBSA or for us if they are being places for example in a storage locker, which is often the case while they wait to go to a lab, for us to be able to have authorities to seize those drugs and prevent them from making it to their destination.”
Even some of the ingredients to make the deadly drug Fentanyl are legal to import.
It’s prompted Canadian senator and former chief of the Ottawa Police Service, Vernon White , to introduce a bill to add fentanyl precursors to the list under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to restrict it’s importation.
“So what we are trying to do is make the actual primary ingredient illegal to possess in Canada unless you have a legitimate purpose in other words you are a pharmaceutical company using it for the manufacturer, which we believe will see a reduction in the shipments legally coming to this country now.”
White says it takes far too long for Health Canada, the federal agency that decides which chemicals are regulated, to add new precursors to the list.
“I’m not suggesting that this is a onetime fix. You know W18 is out there now and the precursors for W18 we will have to look at as well. So this from my perspective, I think Canada needs to get to a point where when a drug becomes a problem, automatically Health Canada should look at the precursors and automatically start listing those so you need permits for them.”
But the CBSA says it does take steps to track precursor chemicals as they enter the country.
In response to a request for comment, it issued the following statement.
“When the Canada Border Services Agency encounters suspicious, legal importations that cause concern about the possibility of illicit use in Canada, further investigation takes place, with CBSA’s intelligence division working closely with law enforcement partners and Health Canada.”
The RCMP and Health Canada, did not make anyone available to comment.