More than two dozen people have been arrested and charged following a joint investigation into drug trafficking in Simcoe County and Muskoka, which saw the Barrie area serve as a central distribution point, according to police.
During a news conference Tuesday morning at Barrie police headquarters on Sperling Drive, city police and Ontario Provincial Police officials highlighted some of the specifics related to Project Shoreham, which is a collaborative investigation that led to the execution of 28 Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) search warrants.
Project Shoreham resulted in the arrests of 29 people, including seven by Barrie police and 22 by the OPP. Combined, there were 279 Criminal Code and CDSA charges, including 100 by Barrie police and another 179 by provincial police.
Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said the operation put "a massive dent" in local drug trafficking, not only in Barrie, but across the county and up into Muskoka.
Police did not release any names, although they did note the arrest of a 28-year-old Barrie resident who now faces 68 Criminal Code and CDSA charges.
All of the suspects are now before the courts and have either been remanded in custody or have future court dates.
When asked whether there could be more arrests related to Project Shoreham, Greenwood said police are still reviewing the evidence.
"We still need to be vigilant and continue with our investigations in the area and the effect that drug trafficking has on our communities," she said.
OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox said police agencies need to continue to work together and share information.
"Anytime we have an opportunity to conduct an investigation and dismantle or disrupt what a criminal organization is doing in terms of distributing, producing or importing illicit drugs, it obviously has an impact," said Cox, adding police are mindful of the potential for another criminal organization to fill the void left by the recent arrests.
The Project Shoreham investigation began in mid-July after officers with the Barrie police street crime and drug units determined that a group of people with connections to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) had chosen Barrie and Angus as central locations for the street-level distribution of cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamine throughout Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka.
The initial search warrant was executed on a storage locker in Innisfil in early September by Barrie police, who were assisted by the OPP, and yielded a number of firearms and drugs.
Later that week, four additional search warrants were executed, which led to the seizure of cocaine, cannabis, crystal methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin.
"The investigation very quickly expanded and took on a much broader scope when it was learned that drugs attributed to this network were being trafficked in other communities in the OPP's Central Region," said Greenwood, who noted the investigative partnership with the OPP speaks to a "borderless approach to policing."
When it was discovered the drug trafficking had expanded into OPP jurisdictions such as Wasaga Beach, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville, OPP officers joined in to help Barrie police.
"Project Shoreham is an example of law-enforcement agencies working together for one common goal: to hold people responsible for distributing these drugs and to relentlessly endeavour to protect our citizens," said Cox.
The investigation recently concluded with the execution of additonal search warrants, leading to the seizure of illegal drugs that were destined for the streets and the arrest of dozens of suspects.
Police would not speak to any details about how the drug-trafficking ring operated, as that information is considered evidentiary, nor would they affix an estimated dollar value to the drug seizure at Tuesday's news conference.
When asked by reporters why the suspects would choose the Barrie area as a base of operation, Greenwood noted the region's transportation system, including Highway 400.
"I think that people are looking at expanding their drug empires and we're seeing a shift in distribution across the province," she said.
As the investigation expanded north from Simcoe County and into the District of Muskoka, more search warrants were executed, leading to the seizure of both opioids and methamphetamine, in addition to other controlled substances and firearms.
"We know that trafficking of illegal drugs has a serious impact on communities and leads to an increase in violent acts as well as property crimes," said Cox, who called fentanyl the "pre-eminent contributor to the opioid crisis we are experiencing.
"The Simcoe-Muskoka region has been particularly impacted by this crisis," he added.
Greenwood echoed those concerns.
"When we look at what's happening not just within our city, our county, our districts, our province and across the country, we are seeing a significant increase in drug use, trafficking, importation, distributing of all of the drugs: cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetmines," said the chief. "We've seen a prevalence of methamphetamines in our local communities."
Police also seized six high-end vehicles, including three Mercedes Benzs, an Audi, a BMW and a Toyota Tundra pickup, as well as approximately $20,000 in stolen property from a recent break and enter.By the Numbers:
- 648.5 grams of fentanyl
- 11,378 grams of methamphetamine
- 3,704 grams of cocaine
- Three handguns, two rifles and one shotgun
- Nearly $24,000 in Canadian currency
- 6,500 street-level doses of fentanyl (Fentanyl is lethal in quantities as small as two milligrams)