Drug busts offer glimpse into Montreal-Nunavik drug trade
“This is bigger than you can imagine”
A series of recent arrests in Montreal and Inukjuak have netted several kilograms of marijuana, hashish and hashish oil.
But this is just a small part of the rapidly growing market for drugs and booze in Nunavik that involves many people, police say.
On May 12, the RCMP arrested Boulaem Laichi, 50, in Montreal.
Boulaem, a former bellhop at the Manoir Lemoyne hotel, was found in possession of a large quantity of drugs bound for Nunavik. The Manoir Lemoyne (now the Clarion), is a suite hotel on De Maisonneuve West that’s popular with visiting northerners.
Boulaem faces charges of conspiracy, possession, and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
At the same time, Kativik Regional Police Force constables arrested two people in Inukjuak. Charges are pending.
These recent drug-scoops resulted from a province-wide operation called “Chinook,” involving the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec, and the KRPF, intended to clamp the flow of drugs to Nunavik.
“This is an ongoing operation and there will be more arrests to follow. This is bigger than you can imagine,” said KRPF police chief Brian Jones. “This is the first phase of more charges to come in Nunavik and in the South.”
Police suspect that criminal elements outside the region and even outside Quebec, as well as terrorist organizations, are masterminding the multi-million dollar drug trade in Nunavik.
Since the beginning of 2004, police in Nunavik have seized more than 20 kilos of drugs, including so-called “hard” drugs such as cocaine and crack cocaine.
“The more we look for, the more we find,” Jones said.
Last year, about 46 kilos of drugs were seized in Nunavik, but if police were able to carry out seizures daily, Jones estimates his officers would easily seize more than 400 kilos a year.
This amount of drugs would have an approximate street value of $21 million in Nunavik.
Another $10 million is spent on alcohol. Quebec’s alcohol corporation, la Société des alcools du Québec, sells 47,500 bottles of booze a year in Nunavik for sales of $1 million, while grocery stores sell $3.2 million, and bars in Kuujjuaq and Kuujjuaraapik rack up more than $4 million in alcohol sales a year.
“And more is bootlegged,” Jones said.
The KRPF is encouraging Nunavummiut to continue giving the police confidential information about drug deals and bootlegging so they can continue seizures of drugs and illegally sold booze.
“They can remain anonymous, but we want to encourage people to support this sort of thing,” Jones said. “We have to get people to realize it’s a problem.”
The magnitude of the problem doesn’t surprise Andy Moorhouse, mayor of Inukjuak. He’d like to see people in his community stop spending money on booze and drugs, but, to do that, they need a community-wide rehabilitation plan.
“That’s what we’d like to see, if the health board could work with us on this,” Moorhouse said.
“If we completely eliminate alcohol or drugs, the activity will just get worse, they’ll turn to sniffing, violence and all that. I would rather have the people do drugs than go crazy and start sniffing.”