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Organized crime doesn’t respect provincial borders, but thanks to cooperation between police agencies in British Columbia and Alberta, more effort is being put into tackling criminals who operate interprovincially.
Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) and the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – British Columbia (CFSEU-BC) have had a long-standing working relationship as they investigate and take down organized crime operations that stretch across both provinces.
Staff Sgt. Dave Paton was the primary investigator on ALERT’s Project Elder, which wrapped up in June 2019 and involved a pipeline of drugs flowing from B.C. to Edmonton and Calgary. The man alleged to be at the centre of the network was arrested in North Vancouver.
“I would venture to guess that probably, of the files I worked while I was at ALERT, upwards of 70 per cent had connections to B.C.,” said Paton, who has since been promoted and transferred to the Edmonton Police Service’s Economic Crimes Section. “Some of them, it was difficult to know where they were sourcing their drugs from, but pretty much on every other occasion where we were able to get an idea where they were sourcing drugs from, it was all coming out of B.C.”
While Project Elder started with a suspect in B.C. and wound its way into Alberta, another major ALERT investigation from 2019, Project Embrace, went the other way.
Project Embrace primary investigator Const. Nick Clarabut saw that file follow a network of street-level dealers in rural Alberta communities like Bonnyville, St. Paul and Cold Lake to an organized crime group in Edmonton, and then to a supplier based out of Vancouver. More than $1 million worth of drugs and cash were seized.
“It’s obviously extremely important to be able to see what targets are doing in B.C. from an investigative standpoint,” he said of the cooperation between the two provinces. “One can rely on source information to identify what targets are doing, but to corroborate that source information with observations or enforcement, it is easier as an investigative team to direct the investigation.”
Meanwhile, CFSEU-BC media relations officer Sgt. Brenda Winpenny said plenty of B.C. cases have ties to Alberta, including major conflicts between organized crime groups.
“Historic B.C. gang conflicts continue to result in violence today between the Red Scorpions/Bacon Brothers and the UN Gang and its affiliated groups, some of which are established in Alberta,” Winpenny said.
She adds that the expansion of the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle group — which already has several established chapters in Alberta — into B.C. is a major area of concern.
In 2019, CFSEU-BC’s Provincial Tactical Enforcement Priorities process identified 33% of threat groups based in that province operating interprovincially. “The gang landscape in British Columbia involves criminality that spans across communities and jurisdictions, resulting in the need for a coordinated and integrated approach by all levels of law enforcement,” Winpenny said. “CFSEU-BC has leveraged partnerships with law enforcement agencies in B.C., as well as other provinces, including Alberta, in situations where an interprovincial nexus to B.C. gangs has been identified.”
For Alberta investigators like Paton and Clarabut, having agencies in B.C. that are willing and able to lend a hand are a huge asset.
“Over the five years I worked for Edmonton ALERT, I would say that it’s been a great relationship,” said Clarabut, who is now working with ALERT’s Lethbridge organized crime team. “For me, this would probably be the start of making those connections as an investigator to other investigators in B.C. I think I’m at a point now where I’d have no issues getting help if I gave them a call.”
“All the agencies in B.C. were awesome and fantastic to deal with; everybody gets it,” Paton said.
And such cooperation has led to a shift in how police approach these sort of large-scale investigations, Paton said.
“Earlier in my career, it seemed to be, in policing in general, we never really went after the sources, the people actually bringing drugs into locations. But in my time at ALERT, it seemed like we were doing that. That was exactly what we were going after,” he said. “Although it wasn’t in all cases, we had mostly gotten away from targeting the average street-level dealer. If you look at drug dealing as a multi-level marketing model, these guys are on the lower end of that model. I got the sense that ALERT was tackling the guys higher up in those chains.”