Border agents make largest cocaine seizure in Prairie Region
The Canada Border Services Agency, along with RCMP, has arrested five men in connection with three separate cocaine seizures totaling over 200 kilograms.
The first seizure took place on September 2, when border agents stopped a commercial truck hauling a load of televisions destined for a business in Alberta.
When the agent opened the first box, they found a small, vacuum-sealed package concealed inside. The parcel tested positive for cocaine.
60 packages of the drug, with a total weight of 69 kg, were found hidden throughout the shipment.
The driver and co-driver of the truck were arrested.
Gurpreet Singh Cheema, 29, and Gurpreet Singh, 28, have been charged with importing a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking a controlled substance.
The pair has been released on strict conditions after making their first court appearance. They are due back in Lethbridge Provincial Court on October 24.
In the second seizure, CBSA officers stopped a truck as it was entering Coutts at about 11:20 p.m. on September 4.
The truck was found to be loaded with novelty items and Halloween costumes for an Alberta business.
Agents discovered a package of cocaine hidden amongst the products and a further search discovered a total of 34 packages of cocaine, weighing 40.45 kg.
The driver, Tejinderpal Singh Sandhu, was charged with importing a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
He was released on strict conditions after his hearing on September 16 and his scheduled back in court in Lethbridge on October 24.
The third seizure was on October 10, a truck hauling produce for another Alberta business was stopped and examined by CBSA officers.
Agents found 83 bricks of cocaine hidden throughout the cab, possessing a total weight of 92.74 kg.
The driver and co-driver, Jasmail Singh Sander, 53, of B.C., and Parmjeet Singh Sandhu, 31, of Ontario, were arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and importing a controlled substance.
Ana Maria Coutu, acting Director for the Canada Border Services Agency in Calgary said all the shipments originated in California.
She says border agents are trained to look for warning signs among shipments that could lead them to contraband.
"There are certain things that our officers look for. They are obviously trained in certain investigative techniques. Through the course of their exam, there were certain packages they felt needed closer investigation."
Allan Lai, the RCMP Inspector for the Southern Alberta region, said the street value of the drugs is well in excess of $10M.
He says there is no doubt the contraband is the product of organized crime. "These investigations were conducted independently. At this point in time, I can't comment on whether these individuals were related to organized crime. What I can tell you is the amount of cocaine shipped is definitely organized crime related."
Lai says that the RCMP and the CBSA are continuing to do everything they can to prevent drugs from coming into the country.
"We are modernizing the way we do business. We are working closely in partnership with the CBSA as well as other local law enforcement agencies and, as a result of that, through intelligence sharing with our international and U.S. partners, we are making more of a dent in criminal organization.
"We're doing our best to stop everything that comes in. This seizure is very significant and definitely worthwhile for us to notify the public."
Kim R. Scoville, the Regional Director General with the CBSA’s Prairie Region commended the efforts of the Coutts border agents in a release.
“Officers at Coutts have continued to demonstrate their dedication to border security. From 109.45 kg of cocaine in September to 92.74 kg in October, the port of Coutts continues to strengthen the integrity of our borders and keep Canadians safe.”
Authorities say that the commercial trucks involved in the incidents were operating for companies based in B.C.
The investigation is ongoing and there could be more arrests and charges.