Counter-drug Sting Operation

Dec 15, 2007

For more than a year and a half, investigators of the Montreal and Halifax RCMP Drug Sections carefully worked out every detail of this international sting operation. Project Chabanel was carried with the Canadian Navy and RCMP liaison officers in England, Morocco, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Spain.

Oct 2007 - Commander Gilles Couturier, commanding officer of HMCS Fredericton at the time, along with RCMP Staff Sergeant Andre Potvin and his team accept the award in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Intelligence indicated that the Peter Toman organization, with links to the West End Gang (a notorious Canadian criminal group), was involved in a major hashish import operation from Africa. To transport the drugs, the organization needed to charter a ship and crew suitable for deep-water navigation. A police sting operation took shape. At a location approximately 200 miles off the coast of Angola, the drugs were transferred from a supply vessel to the undercover vessel. Once transhipment was completed, the drugs were brought into Canada and taken to Montreal.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Fredericton had left Halifax on a routine fisheries patrol – but the mission changed significantly. Suddenly retasked to the coast of Africa in support of this counter-drug operation, Fredericton headed south to follow the RCMP vessel (at a distance) and provide necessary assistance, ensuring the safety of the police officers and serving as command post.

The drug shipment was to be delivered on June 2, 2006. This is when the arrests were made – dismantling an “import” cell of this Montreal-based criminal organization.

Project Chabanel resulted in the seizure (photo left) of 989 bags of hashish, weighing between 20 and 50 kilos each) – the biggest seizure of its kind in Canadian history. These drugs had a street value of approximately $225 million.

“This operation wouldn’t have been attempted by the RCMP without the assurance provided by Fredericton’s ability to operate unseen, as well as her ability to apply overwhelming force at a moment's notice, had that been needed,” said Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, Chief of the Maritime Staff, when explaining the operation to members of the Standing Com­mittee on National Defence. “Although these actions occurred at a great distance from our shores, the actions directly contributed to the security of Canadians.”

The RCMP counter-drug operation, was recommended for a prestigious award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “After all the secrecy ­surrounding the mission, having to hide aspects of the task from our loved ones, and realizing the importance of taking away 22.5 tons of hash from the streets of Canada, we are proud of what was accomplished,” said Cdr Couturier, who commanded the ship for 18 months and now works at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.

 He points out that being recognized for this operation is a clear indication of the team spirit that was quickly built between RCMP officers and members of the ship’s company. “We formed a team and were ready for any eventuality,” he says. “To be recognized at this level confirms what we already knew: the mission was a success. It is a credit to the professionalism of all of the sailors and RCMP officers involved.”

This marks the second year in a row that the RCMP has been presented with an award by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

© FrontLine Security 2007