12 people charged in major drug bust on Manitoulin 

By Colleen Romaniuk

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Provincial police have charged a dozen people with more than 100 offences as part of a 10-month investigation targeting individuals responsible for drug trafficking throughout Manitoulin Island and surrounding districts.

Between Jan. 24 and 26, a number of law-enforcement agencies collaborated to execute five search warrants on Manitoulin Island and in the City of Greater Sudbury.

Throughout the course of the investigation, the team seized a combined 721 grams of suspected fentanyl, 880 grams of suspected cocaine, 196 hydromorphone tablets, three grams of methamphetamine, and 48 Percocet tablets.

Law enforcement officers also seized two handguns, a bat, and $11,335 in Canadian currency, according to a release from the OPP.

Charged with drug trafficking and related offences as a result of this initiative are:

-Amanda Cooper, 36, of Wikwemikong (14 charges);

-Kristan Panamick, 30, of M’Chigeeng First Nation (28 charges);

-Victor Branco, 22, of Sudbury (27 charges);

– Martha Shawana, 60, of Wikwemikong (one charge);

– Conrad Plume, 38, of Wikwemikong (six charges);

– Connie Ottokar, 51, of Massey (one charge);

-Orvelle Buckley, 36, of Espanola (two charges);

– Crystal Lewis, 36 of Wikwemikong (two charges);

– Brian Jordan Ense, 34, of M’Chigeeng First Nation (three charges);

– Devin Wilson, 33, of Scarborough (nine charges);

– Mitchell Gilligham, 31, of Windsor (eight charges); and

– Lucius Jacko, 42, of Wikwemikong (three charges).

The investigation, called Project HEWSON, was launched in response to the state of emergency declared by M’Chigeeng First Nation in April in relation to “opioids, community safety, mental health, and violence,” the release noted.

“I want to thank all who were involved in this project,” said Megan Moriarty, detachment commander of the Manitoulin OPP.

“Through full support and cooperation of working together we have removed some of the dangerous elements in various communities.”

The OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and the North East region’s community street crime unit worked with the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishnaabe Police Service on this initiative.

The overarching goal of the investigation was to collaborate, share intelligence, and provide mutual support between the Tri-Force Drug Enforcement Team, according to the release.

The tri-force team consists of members of the UCCM Anishnaabe Police, Wikwemikong Tribal Police and Manitoulin OPP.

“This intelligence-led investigation found evidence that the targets within Project HEWSON trafficked significant volumes of controlled substances including cocaine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone throughout Manitoulin and the surrounding area,” the release stated.

The investigation is ongoing, and additional charges are expected to be laid.

“The UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service would like to recognize the countless lives that were lost due to opioid addiction and for their families and friends to know that their call for action was heard,” said police chief James Killeen.

“As well, we would like to recognize the individuals, in all our communities, who had the courage and integrity to come forward with accurate and timely information enabling the police the ability to start this drug enforcement initiative.”

Gregory Mishibinijima, the acting police chief of Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service, said Project HEWSON has made Manitoulin Island and its surrounding communities safer.

“Our community, like other communities here on Manitoulin, have suffered the impacts caused by the trafficking and use/abuse of controlled substances,” he said.

“We’ve seen and continue to see the suffering of our people, whether those using/abusing drugs or their family members who have tried or continue to try to help their loved ones break free from drugs.”

In more tragic circumstances, he added, the community has seen its members overdose and lose their lives.

“This leaves behind broken families, loved ones having to bury them. Each community is fighting its own battle against illegal drugs on many fronts and with this, we know we can’t do it alone,” said Mishibinijima.

“We are grateful for the ongoing collaboration and support with drug enforcement and police services through Project HEWSON.”

Several of the accused were held in custody upon arrest and are expected to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island and in Sudbury over the coming months.

Anyone with further information about drug trafficking or organized crime should contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122.

Those who wish to remain anonymous can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or submit information online at www.ontariocrimestoppers.ca where they may be eligible to receive a cash reward of up to $2,000.


 Colleen Romaniuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the SUDBURY STAR . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada



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