More than $7M in drugs seized in bust, including some smuggled into prison by drone: Winnipeg police

An investigation into a suspected gun trafficking ring in Winnipeg culminated last month with the arrests of 12 people and the seizure of dozens of firearms and more than $7 million in drugs across three provinces — including some narcotics that were allegedly smuggled into a Manitoba prison using a drone, police say.

The months-long investigation began in May 2021 in response to rising gun violence in Winnipeg. 

Dubbed “Operation Phoenix,” it represented a resurrection of part of an investigation that wrapped up earlier that year, in which investigators had initially failed to pin down certain people they believed were trafficking guns in and out of the city, Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Elton Hall said at a news conference on Thursday.

“This was a well-insulated group. We struggled a long time in this investigation to prove the allegations,” said Hall, who works with the force’s organized crime unit.

With help from other police forces across the country, officers executed 16 search warrants at the beginning of December, Hall said. 

That included four searches in Winnipeg, three in the community of Anola, which is east of Winnipeg, and two at Stony Mountain Institution, where police say drugs with an institutional value of about $700,000 — including methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine and marijuana — were seized.

It also included four search warrants in Edmonton and three in the Greater Toronto Area, Hall said.

Six of the dozen people arrested across the three provinces, including four men from Manitoba, have been charged with a slew of trafficking and firearm offences. 

The other two men charged so far, from Quebec and Alberta, are believed to have been involved in smuggling drugs into Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution and Ontario’s Collins Bay Institution using a large drone that could carry heavy items, Hall said.

Police say they are seeking warrants to arrest three more people.

In total, 31 guns were seized, including machine guns and handguns, some of which came from the United States and had obliterated serial numbers. Also seized were about 165 kilograms of drugs, worth somewhere between $7 million and $7.5 million, Hall said.

“In my opinion, this is probably the most important investigation we’ve had here to date. As you know, there’s rising gun violence in the city, and we were able to take a significant amount of guns off the street,” Hall said.

Hall stands in front of a table of some of the guns and drugs seized during Operation Phoenix. (Global News)

The investigation was assisted by the Edmonton Police Service’s gang enforcement unit, the Ontario Provincial Police’s organized crime enforcement bureau and the Manitoba RCMP’s organized crime unit, Hall said.

The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada — the country’s financial intelligence agency — also “played key roles” in the operation, he said.

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