British Columbia RCMP have arrested two people in connection with what the force is calling "one of the most significant" fentanyl and carfentanil trafficking enterprises uncovered in Canada, intercepting shipments of the drugs destined for this country, the United States and abroad.
A clothing store that was raided in Kelowna, B.C., as part of the police operation, was referenced in a 2016 Globe and Mail investigation into how fentanyl gets into the country.
RCMP initiated Project E-Neophile in September, 2016, focusing on two Kelowna residents suspected of importing bulk quantities of the two powerful synthetic opioids from overseas and then selling them via the so-called Dark Web, part of the Internet that is intentionally hidden.
Police say that in the first few weeks of Project E-Neophile, they observed the alleged suspects mailing packages to various destinations across North America. The user profile associated with the suspects on the Dark Web then went inactive in November, 2016; the suspects allegedly launched a new user profile on another Dark Web marketplace in July, 2017.
After another month of covert surveillance and investigation by agencies including the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, police on Aug. 10 executed two search warrants: one at the Duke & Duchess Apparel clothing store in downtown Kelowna and one at a residence about a 20-minute drive away.
Police arrested a 35-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman, both of Kelowna, but are not releasing their names as they have not yet been formally charged.
"At this point, we're in the process of reviewing the evidence we've gathered and we will be preparing a report to Crown detailing the full investigation," said Kelowna RCMP spokesman Corporal Jesse O'Donaghey.
Both suspects have been released and are slated to appear in court on Dec. 8.
The Globe learned of the clothing store's possible connection to the illegal fentanyl trade in early 2016 during an investigation into how the drug gets into Canada. Asked by a Globe reporter about shipment to Canada, an alleged supplier provided photos of fentanyl hidden inside silica-desiccant packets – the type used to eliminate moisture in shipped or stored goods – and a screen shot of a recent Canadian order that included the address of the store.
"We will ship fentanyl hcl with urine test strips to clients," the supplier wrote. "So no risk in Canada Custom. We have two clients in Canada now."
In August, police seized about 120 grams of suspected fentanyl and carfentanil, three kilograms of unknown powders and substances, two unsecured firearms and about $68,000 (U.S.) in bitcoin, Cpl. O'Donaghey said.
As well, authorities intercepted 25 packages suspected of containing fentanyl or carfentanil intended to be delivered through express courier services.
Sergeant Alex Lynch of Kelowna RCMP's Street Enforcement Unit said in a statement the bust "may be one of the most significant, and perhaps the most significant, fentanyl/carfentanil trafficking and exportation enterprises that has been uncovered in Canada to date."
An unprecedented 1,500 people are projected to die from illicit drug overdoses in B.C. this year. Of 876 such deaths in the first seven months of this year, fentanyl was detected in 81 per cent.