Saturday, August 27th, 2005
Pot farms flourish
Massive outdoor marijuana grow-ops like the one busted near Oak Lake this week — the largest in the province’s history — are sprouting up across Canada and there are likely more right here in Westman, says a police source.
Indoor grow-ops in residential neighbourhoods — often upscale or suburban areas — have grabbed the media spotlight in recent years, but an Ontario-based investigator said police agencies nationwide are also starting to see a trend in large-scale outdoor pot farms.
“People, usually with ties to organized crime groups, are buying farmland to set these things up,” said the officer, adding many markets are rife with cheap rural real estate as cash-strapped farmers are forced to sell.
“There’s probably more (in Westman). They’re all over Canada.”
The police officer said the land is snapped up and quickly turned into a different sort of farm — one that can generate a much greater return than legal crop varieties.
“Growers, usually one or two people, are trucked in, they’re often of Asian decent, to these rural areas with all the food, water and supplies they need and they aren’t supposed to leave the property. Their job is to tend to these huge grows and keep a low profile so they don’t draw attention. A lot of these people do it because they’re trying to get family into the country but don’t have the money, so they get into this for cash.”
Last Sunday, 35 police officers raided a farm in the Oak Lake area, 53 kilometres west of Brandon. They seized a crop of 13,200 mature marijuana plants said to be worth $13 million growing in outdoor plots hidden by trees and bushes on the property.
According to documents obtained from Manitoba Land Titles, the property was bought in April 2005 for $185,000 by Yong Fen Sue, who has a general delivery address in Deleau, a tiny community near the farm.
That person has not been charged in connection with the marijuana bust.
A lifelong Deleau resident who wished not to be named, said a couple of Asian newcomers to the area stood out in the entirely Caucasian community.
“We knew they’re from the Toronto-area,” said the woman.
“They didn’t mingle — that was a red flag — we tried to get to know them but they kept to themselves and weren’t interested.”
She said residents “had their suspicions” about illicit activity on the farm but the new residents “didn’t hurt anybody or do anything to cause trouble” so most ignored their hunches.
Police pounced on the property after receiving a tip last month.
The Oak Lake bust was one of three to make headlines this week.
Saskatchewan police netted that province’s largest pot bust last weekend seizing $7.5 million in plants from the Pasqua First Nation, 20 km west of Fort Qu’Appelle. Six men ranging in age from 18 to 57 have been charged.
And on Monday, Ontario police uncovered a $5.5 million marijuana grow-op at a rural residence near Wabigoon, a tiny community south of the city of Dryden in northwestern Ontario.
Jiamin Fang, 21, and Wenjie Fan, 44, are charged in that matter. It’s believed the pair moved to that area recently from southern Ontario.
In a 2003 RCMP report on Canada’s drug trade, the Organized Crime Agency said, “In every province where marijuana is grown extensively, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) control the vast majority of large scale outdoor grow operations and indoor hydroponics facilities.” But the report says “criminal elements from Southeast Asia, usually of Vietnamese extraction” have been “increasingly linked” to pot farming in recent years.
“In British Columbia, the Organized Crime Agency estimates that outlaw motorcycle gangs and Vietnamese-based crime groups now control 85 percent of the marijuana production and distribution in that province. While that number may vary in other provinces, the fact remains that organized crime groups do control most of the medium and large scale operations.”
The report goes on to say that with “Asian criminals” becoming increasingly involved in the marijuana growing business, police feared a “potential all-out turf war with the Hells Angels.” There were “some violent clashes,” according to the report but “so far the two organizations appear to have opted for respective tolerance. In fact, there are even cases of ‘joint ventures.’ Some members of OMGs have actually hired growers of Vietnamese origin to run specific operations.”
According to the RCMP, those tasked with tending to grow-ops often don’t make large sums of money but do it simply for food and housing.
“A recent immigrant ... is offered the opportunity to live in the house with his family in return for watering the plants and keeping a low profile. A harvesting crew is sent in every few months to harvest the marijuana and prepare it for sale and distribution,” said the RCMP report.
Police involved in the Oak Lake bust have not commented on what, if any, connection there is to organized crime.
Jia Gu, 46, is charged with production of a controlled substance and possessing a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking in connection with that matter. He was remanded in custody in Brandon pending a Sept. 14 bail hearing.
Gu, who police listed as a Scarborough resident, was deported from the United States in 2001 and is wanted in Ontario for ecstasy trafficking, according to Crown attorney Rob Martens.
A Department of Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson said it’s likely the accused will be booted from the country if convicted of drug trafficking here or is found to be unlawfully in the country. His immigrant status isn’t clear.