Meth possession charges in Quebec have grown at over three times the national rate, according to Statistics Canada crime data.
A total of 1,021 people were charged with methamphetamine possession in Quebec last year, accounting for over half the charges Canada-wide. Over 60 per cent of Canada’s meth trafficking charges also occurred in Quebec.
The increase can be attributed to increased production and a law enforcement crackdown, says Montreal-based criminal lawyer Zayid Al-Baghdadi.
“I certainly haven’t seen charges in the past and now I’m seeing it,” he says.
While Quebec has considerably outpaced any other province, charges for meth have been rising rapidly across Canada. There were fewer than 200 possession charges in 2008 nationwide. In 2012 that number sat just above 1,800.
“I think it’s still novel to a certain degree,” says Al-Baghdadi, whose clients include those charged with meth possession. “But there is more and more of it sort of surfacing.”
Al-Baghdadi has also noticed an increased sense of interest from the police and RCMP when it comes to tracking down meth labs in the province.
One reason Al-Baghdadi points to as a possible reason for the rise in trafficking is an ingredient contained in meth: pseudoephedrine. In Canada the substance is legal and can be bought off the shelf at any pharmacy, as opposed to the United States, where a perscription is often needed. Canada’s lack of red tape enables easier access to the products necessary for meth production.
It also means there is increased demand south of the border for Canadian-made meth, since it’s more difficult to obtain pseudoephedrine in the United States. Some Canadians are even exporting pseudoephedrine across the border to the United States, where it’s being used to create meth, Al-Baghdadi says.
Canadian authorities like the RCMP are beginning to co-operate more with American officials to curb trafficking, he says.
But the solution to the problem won’t come from arrests alone.
“Police just focus on reaction when we really have to engage in prevention,” says Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.
“It’s very clear if the only thing you do is enforce drug laws, there is no sustainable impact on supply or demand,” Waller says.
Waller points to the “Saskatchewan model” as an example of successful drug prevention. That model combines prevention and enforcement, bringing law enforcement, communities and organizations together to address drug problems.
Yves Séguin is the director at Centre d’intervention et de prévention en toxicomanie de l’Outaouais (CIPTO). The Gatineau-based organization works to help treat and prevent substance abuse.
Séguin says he has seen a rise in gang activity over the past few years.
“They’re pushing products [like meth] and some people are trying something new,” he says.
While Séguin hasn’t seen a significant increase in people seeking treatment for meth addiction, the fact that it’s more available on the street may be a reason for the rise in charges.
As for why Quebec, and not any other province, has seen such a noticeable spike in meth charges, the answer remains unclear.
In British Columbia, another province notorious for meth activity, the numbers look very different. Last year fewer than 250 people were charged with possession and just 92 for trafficking.
Various police and justice departments in Quebec did not immediately respond to requests for comment.