China is a major source of the fentanyl killing thousands of Canadians every year.
But getting officials there to help staunch the flow will require Canadian leaders to offer something many may find unpalatable in return: help with hunting their targeted list of fugitives accused of corruption.
“It’s a two-way street and it means also that we have to be more forthcoming probably with their own investigations related to fugitives,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canadian ambassador to China from 2012 until 2016.
“The trump card there is really fugitives.”
For the past week, the Global News investigative series Fentanyl: Making a Killing has untangled the web of how fentanyl is flooding into Canada from China through the use of money laundering by Chinese gangs like the Big Circle Boys, a notorious Chinese crime group who are the kingpins of the fentanyl trade in Canada.
Fentanyl and its chemical precursors are largely produced in factories in southern China.
It then gets imported illegally into Canada via shipping containers and in the mail.
While Canadian officials say publicly that China is cooperating with efforts to crack down on the deadly flood, sources privately say the country is largely inactive and causing growing frustration among law enforcement agencies in Canada.
“It’s a huge fight with China right now, and if you anger the Chinese they won’t work with you,” said a source, who could not be identified. “The fentanyl coming into Canada is going to get worse. Nothing will happen because we have to satisfy what they (the Chinese government) want.”
Global News asked Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Monday whether he is satisfied with the level of cooperation being offered by China on the issue of fentanyl trafficking and whether more resources need to be put in place to crack down.
“It’s got to be a constant, constant diplomatic effort and we’ve started that,” said Goodale, but didn’t say whether there had been discussion about offering further help to Chinese officials who want to hunt fugitives in Canada.
“We have to keep — with all of our allies, including the United States and Mexico — raising it and raising it and raising it again,” Goodale added.
Goodale said that what has been seen so far from Chinese authorities is “a beginning and a small beginning.”
He added that more needs to be done but did not indicate what specific actions Canada is taking to push the issue with the Chinese.
“There is a lot more that needs to be done to demonstrate that this is a deadly problem and we expect international cooperation and we will push very hard to get that cooperation from all the sources where the supply is coming from,” he said.
But Goodale stopped short of promising more funding for RCMP investigations in Canada and especially B.C., the epi-centre of the opioid crisis.
As the Global News investigation series revealed, fentanyl trafficking gangs with links to Mainland China are believed to be laundering billions of dollars in B.C. real estate, and also sending drug-trafficking proceeds back to China, in order to increase opioid imports.
Meanwhile, the death toll from opioid overdoses is spreading from B.C. eastward and mounting, with about 4,000 deaths per year across Canada.
Sources told Global News that the RCMP doesn’t have the training, resources, or strategic focus to tackle the drug money laundering that they have found is prevalent in Metro Vancouver in particular.
The complaints of law enforcement sources were underlined last week, when Global News learned a major B.C. casino money laundering and underground banking investigation with links to China, had abruptly collapsed.
According to police, targets of the so-called E-Pirate investigation in B.C. are top echelon fentanyl traffickers, and they use B.C. casinos and real estate to wash multiply their drug profits.
It is not known why federal prosecutors stayed charges against suspects in the case.
Goodale did not commit to increasing funding to the RCMP, when asked about the collapse of E-Pirate.
“This is an extremely important part of what we call on the RCMP to do, in dealing with money laundering and organized crime,” he said. “We’ve been working with the RCMP now for the last two years to find the appropriate ways to fill in the gaps in their funding.”
Goodale was also asked if he would support a public inquiry in B.C. looking into the fentanyl crisis and organized crime money laundering in B.C.
B.C.’s government has so far not committed to such an inquiry, but pressure is mounting.
Goodale said he has talked with B.C. Attorney General David Eby about the issue, but he did not commit to an inquiry.
So far, Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West is the only B.C. politician strongly advocating for a public inquiry.
“We’ve had this situation where fentanyl is pouring into our country, pouring into British Columbia from China, killing thousands of our people,” West said.
“There is organized crime from China that’s making millions and millions — maybe billions — of dollars in profit from off of that drug trade… and then they’re washing that money clean in our casinos and in our real estate, which also has devastating consequences for our community.
“What we need to do is take our province back. We need a government that is going to stand up for our own people and say, ‘This is going to stop.’”
B.C. Premier John Horgan acknowledged that Global News’ series has uncovered serious concerns, but maintained a public inquiry would be too costly.
However, after the collapse of the E-Pirate investigation, Horgan appeared to soften his stance.
“I have to say one of the major reasons for not taking that step (mounting a public inquiry) disappeared today,” Horgan said last week.
“And I don’t think that B.C.’s interests in getting to the bottom of this has disappeared in any way. In fact if anything, it’s been amplified.”
But driving home the critical nature of the matter to the Chinese may be another matter entirely.
Saint-Jacques said there’s really only been a “lukewarm effort” from Chinese police to deal with the trafficking, and added the matter “was not seen really as a top priority.”
He added that the National Security and Rule of Law Dialogue, a forum set up between Canada and China to discuss security concerns annually, is supposed to be coming up shortly and would be an ideal venue to discuss how to get urgent action on the fentanyl crisis.
No date has yet been set for that forum.