Suspects arrested for supplying opiates to James Bay First Nations communities

Police said that medical patients and patient escorts transported some of the illegal drugs from Kingston to the James Bay coast communities.

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Medical patients and their escorts travelling between Southern Ontario and Northern Ontario are responsible for some of the illegal opiates being smuggled into First Nations communities on the James Bay coast, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Three persons suspected of supplying opiate drugs to James Bay communities have been arrested and charged with several offences said the RCMP on Wednesday

The RCMP said its Serious Organized Crime (SOC) team arrested drug traffickers who had been supplying prescription opiates to Northern communities. The arrests took place on Monday and Tuesday in Kingston, Ontario.

In October 2017, the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council which consists of First Nations in James Bay Region of Northern Ontario declared a state of emergency as a result of rampant opioid use, said the RCMP news release. At the same time, Health Canada requested that the RCMP investigate the trafficking of opiates between Kingston and Northern Ontario communities.

As it turned out, the investigation uncovered a criminal network in Kingston that was involved in illicit drug trafficking to Northern residents.

Police said the drugs were being transported to the area they called the Moose Factory Zone which included Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Moose Factory, Moosonee and Peawanuck.

“The drugs were being transported by patients and escorts for the patients arriving in Kingston, Ontario from the Moose Factory Zone (communities listed above) for medical treatment,” said RCMP Sgt. Penny Hermann, a media relations officer with the RCMP’s O Division. She said First Nations patients and escorts would use a medical charter flight that would make a round trip from the remote communities to Kingston daily between Monday to Friday.

Police said this led to the arrest of the following individuals:

Joshua Burtch,  age 31, of Kingston, Ontario, is charged with:

-Trafficking a substance included in Schedule I – contrary to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA);

-Conspiracy to Traffic a substance included in Schedule I – contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC);

-Possession of Proceeds of Crime – contrary to the CCC.

Pearl Friday, age 40, of Kingston, Ontario, is charged with:

-Trafficking a substance included in Schedule I – contrary to the CDSA;

-Conspiracy to Traffic a substance included in Schedule I – contrary to the CCC;

-Possession of Proceeds of Crime – contrary to the CCC.

Michael Eric Loone (Ashamok), age 48, of Kingston, Ontario, charged with:

-Possession for the purpose of trafficking a substance included in Schedule I – contrary to the CDSA

“The RCMP combats criminal elements that exploit and take advantage of the remote geography of some Indigenous communities. This investigation shows how partnerships are essential in helping to get illicit drugs off of the streets and out of these communities,” stated Superintendent Ivan Verdurmen, RCMP North East District Commander.

Two of the accused persons, Pearl Friday and Eric Ashamok, both live in Kingston but are originally from the James Bay communities said Sgt. Hermann.

Police said all three accused will appear in court at 279 Wellington St, in Kingston, Ontario on October 3rd, 2018.

The RCMP would like to thank Health Canada for their role in bringing this matter forward and the Nishawbe-Aski Police Service, Kingston Police, and the Ontario Provincial Police for their investigative assistance, said the release. Anyone with information regarding criminal activity is encouraged to contact their local police, the RCMP at 1-800-387-0020 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.