Tobacco, drugs, money, weapons, organized crime…

By MPP Toby Barrett

Ed Myers, former editor of Frontline Security Magazine, was kind enough to fly up from North Carolina to support the launch of my Private Members Bill calling for a Commission of Inquiry Into the Illegal Trade and Trafficking of People, Drugs, Money, Tobacco and Weapons Act, 2016. During the Queen’s Park news conference, Myers said: “All smuggling-related crimes are interconnected. Organized crime networks that are used to smuggle contraband tobacco are the same as the ones with the same criminals who are running drugs, weapons or humans to fuel more serious crimes or fund terrorist attacks.”

My proposal for an Ontario government commission is designed to be a one-year inquiry – but not an inquisition — to advise on social and legislative policy.

Although organized crime syndicates – Mexican cartels, biker gangs, other ethnic-based and mafia groups — derive profits from a wide variety of criminal activity, their most sought after business is drug trafficking. It generates up to 80 per cent of their cash flow.

Criminal proceeds are linked not only to drugs, but also to fraud, theft, tax evasion, corruption, prostitution, weapons and human trafficking. There are victims, there is often violence, and there is social harm. Organized crime groups have a corrupting effect on the communities where they operate.

Trade in drugs of abuse such as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin and other forms of narcotics like fentanyl have long been a source of income for organized criminal groups. Fentanyl has now become the leading cause of opioid deaths in Ontario. Much money is also being made in contraband tobacco and marijuana grow-ops.

Any future decriminalization or legalization of cannabis, where reliable quantifiable indicators and data are lacking, make it difficult to predict and take measures in areas such as criminal justice, black market, organized crime and equitable application of any new regulation or laws.

Much of the black market economy circumvents normal banking operations, resulting in a primarily cash-based economy with corresponding safety and administrative concerns. Money laundering facilitates corruption. It also compromises the integrity of legitimate financial systems and institutions, and gives organized crime the funds it needs to conduct further criminal activities.

Money laundering, cyber-crime and financial crime are global problems, and the techniques used are numerous and can be sophisticated. Technological advances in e-commerce, the global diversification of financial markets and new financial product developments provide further opportunities to launder illegal profit and obscure the money trail leading back to the underlying crime. Money launderers also collude and exploit legitimate online services, such as online gambling or auctions, to hide criminal proceeds. Sometimes criminals buy and sell fictitious items in order to mask proceeds as legitimate profits. Digital currency like Bitcoin makes it easy to move money without any middlemen or risk of being traced by the authorities.

The black market has become more complex and sophisticated in its magnitude and scale. This requires innovation and continually-updated approaches of information sharing, and help from the public. No one entity can combat the problems arising from organized criminal activity.

Crime groups pervade all parts of our society and our daily life, and are a threat to peace, order and good government. Information and intelligence-sharing among all of us, including law enforcement agencies and those responsible for public safety, must be enhanced –hence my call for an inquiry.