23 of 29 charged in Project Shoreham are Muskoka residents; Sergeant Graham provides us with details

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

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Agatha Farmer

HUNTSVILLE - On Friday Nov. 29 police announced the names of individuals charged in the Project Shoreham drug investigation; 14 were Huntsville residents, 2 Port Sydney, 5 resided in Gravenhurst and 2 in Bracebridge. In total 23 out of 29 charged resided in Muskoka.

In a Nov. 19 news conference the OPP announced that a drug investigation which began in July titled Project Shoreham concluded with the seizure of;

648.5 grams of fentanyl

6,500 street-level doses of fentanyl

11,378 grams of methamphetamine

3,704 grams of cocaine

Three handguns

two rifles

one shotgun

Police also seized six high-end vehicles as well as approximately $20,000 in stolen property from a recent break and enter.

Huntsville Detachment Commander Staff Sergeant John-Paul Graham spoke with Muskoka Post following the news release regarding the impact of opioids, as well as this investigation and the subsequent bust, on the community of Muskoka.

Graham begins with noting there is a correlation between mental health and addiction and that police have shifted from just looking at the crime itself but more importantly the root cause of the crime.

"We are seeing more and more individuals who are desperate, that want help but can't break the habit. We see with the opioid crisis an increase of violence, assaults and property crimes are up," he said.

He said the OPP is working across the spectrum with other law enforcement agencies, health care providers, and treatment institutions to address the epidemic on all fronts.

In his 22 years of policing Graham said there use to be an attitude of "we've done our job it's not our problem anymore, but we really have to break down those barriers and look at the fact that the pendulum keeps on swinging from the health care system to law enforcement to treatment and back. This is because statistically speaking it takes an individual 7 times in treatment to be able to break the habit. Unfortunately what we see with relapses is the deaths, because as they get immune to the substance they need to dose more."

Graham confirmed that the investigation which began in July was partially initiated following three Huntsville overdoses during the span of one weekend in May of this year. The project involved two under cover police officers who infiltrated a criminal network.

"We knew there was an issue with the sale of narcotics on our streets, we were aware of it and we took a stance. And we are aware of it because a number of officers live in the community and we have neighbours who tell us that 'so and so is selling drugs on our street.' We did a four month project, and this a disruption because we can never completely stop it. We caused a disruption so there is a pause in the sale of drugs; so that we can put barriers down and can look to the healthcare providers to be able to exploit this opportunity."

Graham warns, however, that while this was a very successful investigation police are aware there is always another enterprise or criminal body waiting to exploit the void.

While the OPP knows there is an organized crime element Graham said he can't specifically say if it's related to motorcycle gangs or street gangs.

Graham notes that over the years Muskoka has become more progressive and is not a sleepy Andy Griffin kind of region.

"We are not that place anymore ... We think the GTA network was using Barrie as a launching point. Typically they are not carrying a large amount of product from Toronto all the way up to Huntsville. It's making it harder for us (police) when they split their trips like that. The networking and sharing of information and being inclusive between health care providers, police and other agencies is vital to combat this. The dealers are forming their own network so we have to do the same thing," said Graham.

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"One of the biggest privileges that we have as police officers is to speak for the people who don't have voices. We fight for justice and we stand up for the most vulnerable people, so we can't lose the human side of what people are going through ... It's tough because there are victims here. "

Graham explained the reason why marijuana was referred to as a gateway drug was because a dealer never has just one product. He compares the enterprise of illegal drug sales to the size of a corporation like Walmart.

"You really have to market yourself if you're a dealer as a one stop shop, it's about the mighty dollar because the dealers that we are arresting are not using; they are truly the conduit for people to be victims of their own vice."

Graham indicated that Huntsville specifically out of the all the communities in Muskoka has a gateway to the East through Hwy 60 and Hwy 11 is a huge corridor for all sorts of criminals to utilize.

"If you're looking at Hwy 11 on a typical long weekend just think of all those vehicles coming up, and how many of those vehicles are actually carrying illegal stuff, have victims of human trafficking, or stolen property. They blend in and we have to use all available policing techniques to combat this drug culture."

Graham said Naloxone has saved over 102 lives since last month in Ontario. The drug, however, does not work unless someone is there to administer it during an overdose.

Graham and his colleagues have witnessed parents of young opioid users stay up nights at a time watching over their child to be there in case of an overdose.

The OPP is seeing more needle use and injection administration of drugs. Graham said dealers are marketing opioids mixed with heroin known as 'purple heroin' as drugs which will 'knock your socks off' and send 'you to the moon and back.' These drugs are now so highly addictive that according to Graham "people are now seeking them out."

Overtime Fentanyl users have built an opioid tolerance which has actually resulted in less deaths overall.

"For someone who uses they are always testing the waters for how much they can inject, but the police have noticed that users are matching their limit. They are not dying, but once they do it once they want to do it ten times over. What we are seeing is that there is a demand for fentanyl out there and people are pursuing it," he said.

The face of today's opioid addiction is that of the working people.

"We arrested two individuals in the last 24 hours impaired by drug, and we received blood analysis back and they had a lethal dose of fentanyl in their system while driving in Muskoka and they were going to work."

Graham stressed that the "main goal is to keep people alive and to prevent the addiction itself ... we are really at the cross roads here because we have a group of people that have the addiction, and then we have to break that cycle with the next generation of people. So we have to build that wall up where it's making it more difficult for dealers and suppliers to be able to infiltrate families."

Graham said human trafficking is closely linked and related to drug culture as a certain percentage of crimes stem from "owing of drug money."

The drug organizations consist of dealers and those who deliver the product, Graham said it's very often the delivery drivers who are paying off a debt.

"If you look at it it's quite the web, and if you get tangled in that web it's hard to get out and there is a high level of violence if you're not paying off your debt. In fact that is where we see violence coming from ... the real criminals are not the users ... this drug alters the brain and it's like needing water or food and you would do anything."

Fentanyl is potent, therefore a nugget the size of one tiny rock of Nerd candy is worth $80.

"A piece of fentanyl the size of your finger nail is worth $1,000."

A lethal dose of fentanyl is 2 milligrams which equals out to approximately 32 grains of salt.

The reason why it has become such a lucrative business is because of it's size.

"This isn't a brick of cocaine, this stuff is smaller and harder to find but it's highly lethal."

Graham confirmed a high amount of fentanyl is being shipped from China.

"It's being imported into Canada and Canada Border Services are also having a challenging time. They are looking at their own regulations as anything under a certain amount doesn't necessarily get opened up, and just think about the amount of stuff coming in and they say that statsitally they get 20 percent of the illegal imports."

Besides fentanyl OPP is noticing that crystal meth and cocaine use is on the rise.

Asked if the continuous drug cycle is frustrating for police Graham said it's more "sad."

"When we are seeing people multiple times coming through the cells and they know your first name and you ask them 'what are you doing?' and they tell you 'they just can't' your heart bleeds for them. But we need a system which functions almost like a relay run; we as the police can do so much and then we should be able to pass the baton over to someone who can help further to complete that cycle. But everybody right now is struggling with the capacity but we have to evolve. We have to change quickly."

While Graham acknowledged that as a society "we've done a great job in talking about it to try to break the stigma, now we need to think about further implementation."

At this point the OPP is still investigating other leads achieved through Project Shoreham and pursing another half a dozen individuals who are still wanted.

Muskoka has a specialized street crime unit consisting of 5 officers, this unit specifically targets drugs and property crimes in the region. There is also a Muskoka opioid and drug strategy which collaborates between local agencies.

Graham said his street crime unit told him to "enjoy the fruits of our labour now, but the work is not done."

Names of individuals charged in Project Shoreham and their offences and charges are listed via this OPP link; http://opp.ca/news/#/viewnews/5de024ad690d0

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