When Const. Nicolas Laforge went to his staff sergeant proposing an investigation into Simon Yuen and his organized crime group, he had no idea how big it would be.
But, a year later, in November 2017, there he was along with other members of ALERT Calgary’s Organized Crime Team (OCT) as media gathered video and photos of the firearms and drugs seized during what had become known as Project Offshore. All told, the operation netted $4.1 million worth of drugs – including an Alberta-record 28 kilograms of methamphetamine – vehicles, bank accounts, weapons and a home valued at more than $1 million. Eleven people were charged with 127 offences.
Laforge was familiar with Yuen and his operation thanks to his time working with ALERT Calgary’s Street Enforcement Team (SET), which targets street-level drug traffickers. But that team had neither the resources nor the time to go any higher than the bottom rung of the group’s ladder. When Laforge transferred to the OCT, though, he saw an opportunity.
But he didn’t have any inkling that this investigation would turn into a multimillion-dollar headline-grabber.
“I would be lying if I said I did,” Laforge says. “We just started at the bottom of the ladder and we worked our way up. We followed the evidence. We didn’t really reinvent the wheel in that respect.”
As the investigation progressed, the OCT had to remain focused on the task at hand – Laforge says there were tough decisions made behind the scenes not to pursue certain avenues in order to maintain that focus. But, at the same time, there had to be some flexibility. Focusing too narrowly could have been just as detrimental as going too wide.
“You have an idea where you want to go, but the biggest mistake we could have made is to stick to that idea and not go where the evidence is leading us,” Laforge says. “Our primary objective was to target the criminal organization of Simon Yuen, but at the end of the investigation, Simon Yuen is ultimately the only individual who is not charged with the offences we were investigating at the onset. Had we stuck strictly to him and not followed the evidence, the outcome would have been different.
“That said, there is a form of blueprint with respect to drug investigations, which is to investigate a certain target until that target led us to whoever was the next one in line above that person.”
As media captured pictures of weapons and drugs laid out on tables and dignitaries offered congratulations, Laforge says he couldn’t help but feel proud of his team and their accomplishment.
“It’s a good feeling,” he says. “As much as the evidence on the table, a statement that made the team realize the success of the investigation was the individuals who came to the press conference: [Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley], who had words for us, and all the members of the [ALERT] Joint Management Team that were present. I think that was also a testament to the success of the investigation. It was a true moment where the team saw what our efforts led to.”