Lauren Boothby

September 2, 2021

-Edmonton Journal


Police have shut down a drug superlab in rural southern Alberta, seizing more than $300 million worth of drugs and precursors in the province’s biggest fentanyl bust to date.

More than 31 kilograms of the chemicals were found after officers carried out 13 search warrants near Aldersyde on July 7, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) announced Wednesday at its Edmonton headquarters. Another 7,600 kg of chemicals used in fentanyl production, 18 handguns, a rifle, $25,000 in cash and jewelry, six vehicles, four motorcycles, three trailers and a boat were seized during the operation dubbed “Project Essence.”

Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, CEO of ALERT, said the bust was “unparalleled” in Alberta’s history and represents the greatest success in disrupting the illegal opioid market in Alberta to date.

The investigation tracked drugs from importation to accumulation and stockpiling, chemicals, production and distribution, he said.

“It’s not about the monetary value of this seizure, this is about the lives that have been saved, and our dedication to the opioid crisis,” he said.

“This seizure that we conducted, this will have an impact on the supply chain Alberta and all of Canada.”

The amount of fentanyl and precursor police obtained, Lakusta said, is equivalent to 16 million lethal doses of fentanyl — with a fatal dose being just two milligrams.

Police launched the investigation in February. Officers identified a network of businesses — including storage facilities in Calgary, Edmonton and rural parts of the province — and a handful of suspects.

Insp. Kevin Berge, who oversees the organized crime and gang enforcement unit, said although no one has yet been charged just yet, it was important to shut the lab down right away.

“At this point we’re trying to stop the lab from producing — imagine if you found out, ‘You let this lab run for two months. What, are you crazy?’ ” he said. “You couldn’t let that thing operate. You have to take it over.”

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu praised the ALERT team but said work to keep drugs and criminals off the street will continue.

“Enforcement must be a significant part of any strategy to deal with the damage illegal drugs are doing to Albertans, their families and their communities.”

Associate minister of mental health and addictions Mike Ellis said the government is focused on providing “recovery-oriented solutions” by treating addiction as a health issue, funding treatment spaces and getting rid of financial barriers to treatment, and making naloxone and methadone available.

Asked about whether the government is considering following B.C.’s lead by making safer, legal opioids available by prescription — as the bust will diminish the available supply — Ellis said Alberta won’t be following suit.

Some doctors have criticized the province’s new regulations for supervised consumptions sites, saying they will increase barriers to services and further strain hospitals.