While the laws they enforce and the methods they use might differ, law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border have the same goal: To catch the bad guys.
That shared goal is a big reason why Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have developed a great working relationship since ALERT was founded in 2006. Through the DEA’s office in Vancouver, the two agencies have worked together on a number of files with successful outcomes.
The most recent of those files was Project Coyote, which wrapped up in November 2019 and set multiple records for ALERT. In total, almost $20 million worth of drugs and assets were seized, including 250,000 fentanyl pills — believed to be the largest fentanyl seizure in Canadian history — 98 kilograms of cocaine, five kilograms of methamphetamine, 13 firearms and $1.3 million in cash proceeds of crime.
“I wasn’t expecting how easy the relationship would be,” said Det. Laird Linklater with ALERT’s Calgary organized crime team, who was the primary investigator on Project Coyote. “The DEA in Vancouver was willing to help out in any which way they could. From information requests to surveillance, they bent over backwards to help out.”
Meanwhile, the DEA says it’s very satisfying to see the results of a cooperative effort like Project Coyote, and that kind of success only encourages further cooperation.
“The relationship between DEA and ALERT as successful and growing,” said a DEA spokesperson in an emailed statement. “The collaboration between DEA and ALERT on Project Coyote is a great example of how our two agencies can be successful when working together.”
The seizure of 250,000 fentanyl pills from a Calgary apartment in February 2018 kicked Project Coyote into high gear, and more than 30 search warrants were executed over the next 20 months. But when targets start booking travel into the United States, Linklater knew he had to call in some help.
“We needed to figure what the nature of those trips were, so that’s when we started reaching out to the DEA asking for surveillance resources to determine what the target was up to,” he said.
Through a contact with the DEA’s Vancouver office, Linklater was able to make requests for information and assistance that were fulfilled quickly and efficiently. This came in extremely handy when ALERT got information that a Calgary woman was travelling to Houston, Texas, to pick up an 81-kilogram shipment of cocaine and bring it back to Canada. She was intercepted and arrested by ALERT, the DEA and the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office.
“I believe we have a good working relationship, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on it and target the people who are bringing drugs into the country,” Linklater said.
That relationship has been built not only on the back of Project Coyote, but other collaborative efforts over the years. The DEA also assisted ALERT with Project Arbour in 2017 and 2018, which involved the seizure of 100 kilograms of methamphetamine near Provo, Utah, and with the dismantling of a cocaine trafficking network in Alberta following the 2012 seizure of 45 kilograms of cocaine in Nevada that were bound for Calgary.
ALERT assisted the DEA in investigating and extraditing two men from Lethbridge to Colorado in 2015, where they were wanted on drug charges.
While organized crime has never respected borders, the spokesperson added that, in recent years, technology has thrown up new hurdles in law enforcement’s efforts to dismantle international criminal organizations.
“The use of cryptocurrency and encrypted cellphone apps have presented challenges in investigating those international organized crime groups,” he said. “The emergence of this new technology makes the working relationships between DEA and its foreign counterparts all the more important.”
Linklater said that, in his time working at ALERT, he and his colleagues have become more aware of and gained more experience with international cases, making it more feasible to leverage international partnerships and see those cases through to a conclusion.
“As ALERT matures and we gain more experience, we’re able to go after higher targets who are in control and orchestrating the transporting of shipments or the importation of drugs and money,” he said.