Arrests and drug seizures in Chilliwack by the province's anti-gang police unit are shedding light on the traffic of drugs from the Lower Mainland to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
Late last month, the provincial Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) raided five properties in Chilliwack, netting nearly $4.6 million in drugs, as well as rifles,
handguns and submachine guns.
Five people were arrested in the raids — part of a larger probe into an alleged Chilliwack criminal organization.
Police believe the organization is tied to drug-related violence in the Peace Region, including the Feb. 20 shooting of a 26-year-old man.
Police have yet to release the name of the organization, pending charges.
According to CFSEU spokesperson Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, several vehicles tied to associates of the Chilliwack group have been spotted in the Peace Region.
"[Local police] see some of the vehicles and report back 'hey, we saw one of the vehicles tied to your group down there up here,'" he said. "You see people in vehicles associated to groups in Chilliwack couriering or doing something up in [the north]."
Local RCMP saw the vehicles "even around times of some of the violent occurrences we've seen in [Dawson Creek and Fort St. John]," Houghton said.
Houghton said those violent occurrences included a Feb. 20 shooting where a man was abducted in Dawson Creek, taken to a rural area and shot multiple times. He survived, and was last reported in stable condition.
Four men — Jaskarn Singh Lally, Christopher Stewart Westlake, Avninder Singh Sidhu and Anthony Joseph Larsen — were charged with firearms offences after police raided a residence in Dawson Creek and found weapons. Lally was also charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
None of the men have been charged with the shooting itself, which would likely carry a charge of aggravated assault or attempted murder.
Houghton said police believe the men were "three, four, five degrees of separation from the main players down in Chilliwack."
"There are groups like this group that don't nesecarily live [in the Peace], but operate a business there," he said. "That's what we believe this group is doing."
Other "franchises" of gangs from the Lower Mainland and Alberta have been linked to assaults in the Peace, Houghton added.
Police have yet to release the name of the Chilliwack organization.
"It's the name of the main guy, and he hasn't been charged yet," Houghton said. "It's not like the Red Scorpions or the UN Gang or anything like that. His name isn't Smith, but it's like 'The Smith Crime Group.'"
Houghton said the Chilliwack group operates somewhere between the United Nations Gang and a group of the "old Independent Soldiers and their associates—the Hells Angels and Red Scorpions."
"This guy sort of freelances," he said.
Robert Cletus Traverse, a UN gang associate, was arrested after a police raid on a rural Dawson Creek property in August. He has been charged with drug trafficking, misuse of a firearm and possession of stolen property. Traverse has his next court appearance in May.
Gang violence is a relatively new problem for northern communities, Houghton said.
"A lot of the 'work' these groups did eight to ten years ago, they didn't go up north, because there wasn't the oil and gas," he said. "The influx of people and money has opened up these other markets. Fifteen years ago people weren't selling drugs in Fort McMurray."
None of the charges have been proven in court.