Minden councillor Jennifer Hughey, who used to live in Toronto, says she’s never seen anything like the drug bust she witnessed on Bobcaygeon Road the night of Nov. 12, 2020.

Hughey, who lives on the road, described the scene in a recent interview with The Highlander.

“There were three police vehicles at the end of a driveway with no lights on. One of the SUVs had a drug dog. The police marched two-by-two with the dog in the front, very covertly down the road. There was another car parked at the end of the Minden Bible Church road. They just converged on [an alleged drug house] and there was a lot of dog barking.”

Hughey said following the initial police action, which involved eight to 10 officers that she could see, police were on scene for hours and the house and adjacent garage lit up as it was searched.

“The feeling of us on the street, who have seen things going on for about two-and-a-half years, is maybe this time it’ll be done, but we don’t feel extremely confident,” Hughey said.

On that night, Haliburton Highlands and City of Kawartha Lakes drug cops executed a search warrant at the house and said they found cocaine and fentanyl. They also located cash and stolen items. They arrested and charged five Haliburton County residents as well as a suspect from Ajax and one from Toronto. The charges included possession and trafficking of drugs as well as possession of property obtained by crime. Those suspects have now begun their slow march through the court system.

The year 2020 was a busy one for drug busts in the County. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 29, 78 people have been charged with 304 offences. By contrast, 2019 saw 23 people charged with 99 offences.

The first major bust of last year was in the wee hours of Jan. 30, 2020, when police used choppers and dogs to raid six locations in the County and GTA, seizing 400 grams of cocaine/crack cocaine, two grams of fentanyl, 13 guns and more than $12,000. They also located stolen property. Thirteen Haliburton County residents were charged at the time and three from the GTA.

Dubbed Project Imperial, the OPP said it was the culmination of a nine-month investigation into trafficking cocaine into the Haliburton area from the GTA. They said they also identified a significant property crime network directly linked to the accused.

One eye witness to a bust in Carnarvon said she was awakened before dawn to the sound of a helicopter. When she went outside to investigate, the woman said she saw a home along Highway 35, just north of the village, being swarmed by police.

The busts continued from then with major warrants executed across the County.

Haliburton Highlands OPP detachment commander, Liane Spong, said, “There has been an emergence of increased drug availability in Haliburton County over the recent years and to tackle that the solution required a team approach aimed at gathering intelligence and actioning projects across multijurisdictional boundaries.”

She said the community street crime units (CSCUs) that are tackling the drug trade combine the organized crime enforcement bureau, the community drug action team and the detachment-based street crime team.

“We’re actually putting a really big dent in it,” Spong said. “It’s boots-on-the-ground police work that it’s coming down to, digging out that information, spending countless hours making linkages down to the GTA in several regions.”

Based on local police statistics, the drugs of choice locally are cocaine (74 occurrences and more than 678 grams seized), followed by crack cocaine (26 instances and 704 grams). Cannabis ranks next.

The drugs are coming from the GTA with activity from Durham to the Kawartha Lakes area, Douro-Drummer, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Essa Township and Trent Hills.

Spong said, “in the past, police agencies may not have had the same capability to work together, creating silos, however today’s advancements afford the ability to work with other police agencies across the province and beyond. And the OPP provides an integrated service delivery model whereby we work across multiple OPP detachments and OPP bureaus in developing coordinated approaches to investigations as crime knows no borders yet can have profound local impacts if not addressed in such a way. So, our local CSCU team taps into expertise across the province and works hard to pull it all together.

“Even our local members are involved in search warrants and seizures. Not just in Haliburton County, but other areas on joint projects and from there we have been executing search warrants, making huge seizures, and where the dent starts to happen, it’s hitting the distribution source much higher up in the chain.”

Police activity summary

Item20202019
Occurrences2831
Warrants1118
Warrant Services52
Persons Charged7823
Charges30499

Seized drug summary

Drug type2020 Occurrences2020 Quantity2019 Occurrences2019 Quantity
Amphetamine/salts/derivates/isomers/analogues 1
Cannabis (Marihuana)2419g; 6264 items63303g
Cannabis (plants)202409 items19 items
Cannabis resin (hash)1
Cocaine74678.17g34147.35g
Crack cocaine26704g10.50g
Fentanyl8831.80g; 1 item
Hydromorphone155
Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth)47512.30g
Other14442 items
Oxycodone (Percodan)11 item44 items
Psilocybin (mushrooms) 22
Totals:1911401.17g, 8674 items733994.95, 56 items

Drugs and property crime

There is also a strong correlation between drugs and theft. Nearly every major bust finds not just drugs but stolen goods. People are stealing to sell items for drug money, or swapping stolen items for drugs.

Spong said, “They [police] do a lot of work where they are focusing on the local drug activity and related property crime and from there trying to link the distribution chain back to the source and it’s working really well.”

She added that in every investigation, they learn a little bit more about who is involved, the supply routes and distribution chains.

“Our team is incredibly busy having to connect all the dots across the County and the GTA.”

The detachment commander vows there will be more to come.

“Haliburton County is on the map. I think the messaging is loud and clear. If you’re going to engage in that type of illicit activity in the County it’s going to be found out and we’re going to take significant action to curb that.”

Spong emphasized the OPP are not alone in the war on drugs. She says justice and enforcement is just one pillar in the Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland Drug Strategy. The others are harm reduction, prevention and education and treatment.

“It is complex. It is deep-seated. We know it’s related to so many more things than just local people using. It has that deeper sense of being linked to overall social determinants of local health, there’s poverty, addictions, mental health. It goes across so many different facets and organizations. All these other areas play a role.”

Haliburton Highlands Detachment Commander Liane Spong. Photo by Lisa Gervais

Major OPP drug activity in 2020

• Nov. 12, 2020 – Bobcaygeon Road, Minden Hills. Five Haliburton County residents charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine and fentanyl.

• June 30, 2020 – motor vehicle stop. Three Haliburton County residents allegedly found to be in possession of cocaine and fentanyl. One was further charged with possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime.

• May 28, 2020 – Mountain Street, Dysart. Police seized more than eight ounces of cocaine and more than $7,000 in Canadian currency. Three County residents charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine. Two of them were the same people charged in a May 13 raid.

• May 13, 2020 – Mountain Street, Dysart. Four Haliburton County residents charged with trafficking cocaine.

• April 9, 2020 – Hutchings Road, Dysart. Police seized several ounces of cocaine, valued at $23,000, a small quantity of crystal meth, and $7,100 in Canadian currency. They also took four restricted firearms, and one prohibited firearm, a stolen side-by-side UTV valued at $5,500. Four County residents charged with various offences.

• Jan. 30, 2020 – Project Imperial – a nine-month investigation into trafficking cocaine into the Haliburton area from the GTA. Also identifying a significant property crime network directly linked to the accused. Police recovered stolen property taken from residential and commercial properties in the County. Major bust with helicopter and dogs. Seized 400 grams of cocaine/crack cocaine, two grams of fentanyl, 13 weapons and more than $12,000 in cash. Stolen property, including generators, power tools and solar panels. Thirteen County residents charged.

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