Canada has become a major hub for producing and shipping methamphetamines and ecstasy to markets worldwide, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.
"Canada, which traditionally consumes a lot of cannabis and produces a lot of cannabis, is also a hub now for methamphetamines and ecstasy, which would likely come as a surprise for Canadians," said Walter Kemp, a spokesman for the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime.
According to the 314-page report by the UN agency, organized crime involved in the methamphetamine trade “has grown significantly” in Canada. Such criminal groups have also increased the amount of methamphetamines they manufacture and export.
Australia, for example, reported that 83 per cent by weight of its total seized imports of methamphetamines came from Canada. In Japan, the figure was 62 per cent.
The UN's report suggested the increase is related to Asian criminal organizations and biker gangs.
The report's findings were endorsed Wednesday by police and criticized by a criminologist.
Steve Walton, a former detective with Calgary police who has written books about street drugs in Canada, agreed Asian organizations and bikers are mainly responsible, given their well established distribution networks into Indonesia and Australia.
He added that some "independent enterprise criminals" are also using drug-making recipes found on the internet to produce methamphetamines.
"It is a disturbing trend that has been developing over the last five years," said Walton. "In fact, in a generation, Canada became a drug-exporting country as opposed to a drug-importing country," said Walton.
Walton noted Canada's main challenges are vast coastlines that are difficult to monitor and drug laws that are often liberally interpreted in the courts.
The UN study found that production and consumption of synthetic drugs — amphetamines, methamphetamines and ecstasy — have grown into a mass industry in recent years.
Primary source for ecstasy
The report also found that since 2003-04, Canada has become the primary source of ecstasy-group substances for North American markets, and increasingly for other regions, including the U.S., Australia and Japan.
Japan reported that in 2007 Canada was the biggest source of seized ecstasy.
Meanwhile, the report revealed that demand for marijuana and cocaine is down in Europe and North America. Opium production has also flattened out or even declined.
Among synthetic drugs, it's estimated up to 50 million people worldwide took amphetamines and related drugs and about 27 million took ecstasy, according to the report.
The estimated cost of the world's illicit drug market is about $320 billion US.
"This makes drugs one of the most valuable commodities in the world," said UN Drugs and Crime executive director Antonio Maria Costa. "The proceeds of drug-related crime are of macroeconomic proportions."
But legalizing drugs is not the proper way to remove the threat, he said.
"Legalization is not a magic wand that would suppress both mafias and drug abuse," Costa said. "Societies should not have to choose between protecting public health or public security: they can, and should, do both."
The report's recommendations include:
* Treating drug use as an illness.
* Ensuring universal access to drug treatment.
* Enforcing international agreements against organized crime.
* Shifting police focus to high-profile, high-volume and violent criminals instead of petty offenders.
Walton wasn't surprised by the UN's suggestion that Canada is a hub for meth production, since Canada hasn't been able to control ephedrine, one of the main ingredients.
View report with skepticism: criminologist
The UN report suggested more stringent regulations in the United States may have forced meth production to migrate north.
RCMP Superintendent Pat Fogarty, of the British Columbia RCMP's Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, agreed, noting the U.S. has stricter laws than Canada regarding possession of ephedrine.
But a criminology professor suggested the report is a calculated attack on policy on behalf of the U.S. administration.
"They're not looking at what's driving this machine of violence .… It's prohibition that's driving it," said Neil Boyd of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan shared the UN's concerns, saying Canada has had an attitude of indulging the drug trade.
"We've had in certain parts of the country a tolerant attitude towards drugs," Van Loan said.
"The justice system didn't really get serious on those committing drug crimes, and we've created an incubator which has led to some of the most sophisticated and highly developed business operations in the drug import/export manufacturing field."
Loan said the Conservatives proposed a bill that would create minimum sentences for drug traffickers, but it didn't make it through the Senate before the end of the spring session.
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