Reducing Opioid / Drug Smuggling

Classification: Unclassified
Branch / Agency: CSCCB

Proposed Response:


The opioid overdose crisis in Canada is a national public health and safety epidemic of significant concern to the Government of Canada. From January 2016 to December 2019, there were more than 15,000 apparent opioid-related deaths across Canada. A significant portion of these deaths are attributed to fentanyl and its analogues.

The opioid crisis is now worsening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the risks to people who use drugs and resulting in unprecedented overdoses and deaths. Public health officials anticipate that 2020 will be the deadliest year on record, with Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan all reporting spikes in overdose morbidity and mortality since March 2020.

Canada’s opioid response requires a whole-of-government approach that balances public health and public safety considerations. The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS), which is founded on the pillars of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement, informs this approach and fulfills the Government’s commitment to collaborative, comprehensive, and evidence-based drug policy.

The Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Illicit Drug Supply

Border closures, travel restrictions, and other social changes are disrupting the illegal drug supply, affecting the market availability of opioids and other drugs, as well as the precursor chemicals used to manufacture synthetics. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are leading to increased adulteration and toxicity as traffickers rely on potent cutting agents, like fentanyl, to stretch existing stockpiles of illicit substances.

The pandemic has also impacted the way in which organized crime groups are operating in the illicit drug market. Intelligence indicates that these groups are adjusting their production methods, developing new smuggling techniques, and using different routes to circumvent ongoing restrictions. For instance, traffickers now rely on commercial vehicles, air cargo, marine containers, and the postal mode to move product.

Efforts to Address the Illicit Drug Supply

Coming into force in May 2017, Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments, amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), the Customs Act, and the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act to further address the opioid overdose crisis. Notably, the Bill introduced regulatory mechanisms to restrict the importation of designated devices (e.g. pill presses) used in the illegal production of pills. It also removed the 30 grams or less mail exception, granting border officers the authority to open international mail of any weight, on suspicion the item contains prohibited, controlled, or regulated goods. 

Budget 2018 included funding for Public Safety Canada to coordinate with and disseminate information to law enforcement in support of the opioid crisis response. Activities include hosting five roundtable events, strengthening international partnerships to help reduce the cross-border flow of illegal substances, and increasing policy capacity to address supply-related issues. It also included funding for the CBSA to expand safe examination capacity for goods suspected to contain highly toxic substances, establish additional detector dog teams, and augment intelligence and risk assessment capacity.

Pursuant to the Minister of Public Safety’s current mandate to work with partners to reduce the smuggling of opioids and other drugs across Canadian borders, Public Safety Canada is working with federal, provincial, and territorial partners, as appropriate, as well as in international fora to disrupt domestic and cross-border flows of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals.


Prepared by: Meagan Strasser, Policy Advisor, 343-548-9971

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