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The East: Smuggling Rings In Canada 'Out of Control'

Ottawa, 22 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Canada's national police are warning that smuggling activities in Canada are "out of control."

In its 1997 Outlook Report, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - RCMP - says that while most of the smuggling by organized crime groups "goes unseen by Canadians, the average consumer ends up paying for it in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and increased insurance rates."

The report goes on to say that "most of the criminal groups in Canada are involved, separately and cooperatively, in smuggling operations and the range of commodities being handled is constantly increasing, with the only consideration being the potential of the commodity to command maximum profit."

It says that ethnic-based organized crime groups "concentrate on exporting specific commodities in high demand in their home country. For example, fashionable clothing and vehicles are stolen in Canada by groups with links to the former Soviet Union, where there is a huge market for such goods. East European organized crime groups operating in Canada are particularly flexible and opportunistic, quickly identifying grey areas in the business world."

The traditional smuggling items - tobacco and alcohol - are, according to the report, now joined by increasing activity in smuggled weapons, stolen goods, animal parts, and luxury items such as gems, jewelry and high-end cars.

There are several hundred law enforcement officers from national, provincial and municipal governments working together just in the area of East European organized crime activities in Canada. Chief Superintendent Wayne Wawryk, the RCMP's director of criminal intelligence, says Canada is "particularly attractive because of its political and economic stability, a lack of comprehensive legislation against organized crime and the relative ease with which its financial sector can be used to launder and manipulate money. Whether Canadians recognize it or not, Canada is an important branch operation of the global business of organized crime."

Of growing concern to the RCMP is the smuggling of people. The report says "numerous investigations have shown that Asian smuggling rings often operate with extensive and complex networks. Currently, the smuggling of illegal migrants is carried out primarily by specialized groups with loose affiliations to major organized crime outfits. Like contraband smuggling, migrant smuggling combines high returns on investment with relatively minor penalties if caught and will undoubtedly attract the attention of other groups."

The RCMP report says that "in an era where borders and notions of national sovereignty have effectively been eliminated, organized crime is flourishing. People, commodities and money travel freely and at lightning speed and criminals come and go as they please, pursuing the opportunities now available in a rapidly shrinking world. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, organized crime grows ever more powerful, with a potential for corruption that is unprecedented in the history of the world."

Wawryk says the Canadian government has started tackling the problem with new laws that help police crack down on gangs and seize the proceeds of crime. The government has set up national and regional committees on organized crime to share information about such activities, a move Wawryk says "is very healthy because we have an avenue to discuss these things with the government."