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'dramatic Increase' In Grow-ops, Related Violence

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Ontario




by Terri Saunders,
Cornwall - A deadly shooting at a marijuana grow-op last week is part of a growing crime wave sweeping across the region, police said Monday.

"We have certainly seen a dramatic increase in this type of activity across Ontario," said Det. Sgt. Paul Henry, of the Ontario Provincial Police's drug enforcement section. "We're seeing larger grows throughout the province, and when you have big profits you get links to organized crime."

On Friday afternoon, police found the body of 33-year-old Patrick Lavoie at a property on Kenyon Concession Road 5 near Greenfield, just southeast of Maxville. The Montreal man is believed to have had a connection to a grow-op police located on the property.

Two men are in hospital in Ottawa with serious injuries in relation to the shooting, while two other Quebec men are charged with a variety of drug-related offences related to the incident.

The shooting is part of an increase in violent crimes in the area related to the cultivation of a drug that can net criminals a lot of cash.

"Locally, you can buy of pound of marijuana for about $2,000," said Henry. "But when it gets across the border, the price goes way up."

Henry said a pound of Ontario or Quebec bud can net about $3,500 U.S. in places like upstate New York; in cities such as Los Angeles, the same amount can sell for as much as double that price.

"This is a very profitable industry," said Henry, who admitted the activity has increased "very significantly" in recent years. "The amount of violence you will see in relation to these types of crimes rises proportionally with the dollar value of the crime."

A number of police agencies work alongside the OPP in fighting the trend, including the RCMP.

Sgt. Michael Harvey has been with the local RCMP detachment for several years, and he does agree there is a high level of drug-related activity in the region.

"It is a crime-rich area here," he said. "When you're talking about organized crime like we know we have in relation to marijuana grows, we know the groups are able to finance themselves pretty well.

"It's very attractive to them."

Harvey said since the beginning of the year, regional police forces have seized about 400 kilograms of marijuana and more than $1.3 million in a series of contraband-related busts.

"The money is almost entirely for marijuana buys," said Harvey. "( The money ) is coming north, and we know what it's being used for - to buy the marijuana that will be shipped south."

Harvey said while it's unclear how much of the U.S.-bound product is actually grown in the Cornwall area, most of the dope is packaged in Quebec.

"We know it's packaged in Montreal because we recognize the air-tight, sealed bags," he said. "It's quite probable the marijuana is being grown in Ontario and taken to Montreal to be packaged."

Harvey pointed to the fact two men charged in relation to Friday's grow-op - [Name redacted], 31, and [Name redacted], 21 - have been identified as being from the Montreal area as an indication of cross-border operations.

He also said it's no surprise to anyone the Cornwall area is a prime location for criminals looking to transport marijuana across to the United States.

"This is the spot for all sorts of contraband products to cross the border," said Harvey. "We know there is a network of smugglers working in the area, and we are seeing more and more incidents involving dangerous activity all the time."

Police say more than half of all the marijuana seized in Canada in 2004 was produced in Quebec. During that year, officers seized 1,500,000 plants across the country, 761,000 of which came from Quebec.

In Ontario, officers took 256,000 plants, while in British Columbia the seizures were in the area of about 458,000 plants.

"We don't have all the numbers for 2005 yet, but there's no doubt it will be even higher," said RCMP Sgt. Denis Pelletier, co-ordinator of the force's marijuana grow-op unit. "I would say we'll be looking at close to 2 million plants for 2005."

With an increase in product comes an increase in the amount of crime with which a number of police forces must contend.

"The profit for these groups is enormous, and it's growing," said Henry. "That's why organized crime is growing. It's a significant problem."

"We have certainly seen a dramatic increase in this type of activity across Ontario."
 

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