Youngest believed to be only 13 years old. Probe targets network of
marijuana dealers attending two high schools on South Shore

Students from two South Shore high schools were led away in handcuffs
while their classmates looked on yesterday as police clamped down on
what they described as a well-organized network of adolescent drug
dealers.

The youngest of the students arrested yesterday, as part of an
investigation that began in August in this town southeast of Montreal,
was believed by police to be 13 years old.

Most of the students were small-time dealers supplied by people
operating marijuana greenhouses in small towns near St. Jean sur
Richelieu, police said.

"The majority (of those arrested) had drugs on them or in their
lockers," said Inspector Mario Rainville, head of St. Jean sur
Richelieu police criminal investigations.

"They worked like that."

The investigation centred on alleged dealers at the Polyvalente Armand
Racicot in St. Jean and Polyvalente Marcel Landry in neighbouring Iberville.

Teacher Daniel Turcotte said that for years the problem has frustrated
educators, who felt nothing was being done.

Rainville said the police have made busts before but the investigation
that led to yesterday's arrests revealed a new level of
organization.

Thirty-three people were being sought on arrest warrants on charges of
drug trafficking. By yesterday evening, officers had apprehended 31,
including 30 teenagers. They also seized drugs, scales, counterfeit
money and pagers.

Rainville said the dealers were organized to the point of claiming
sections of the schools as their territory.

At least one had assaulted another for doing business on his turf, he
said.

"The information we were getting from the public was that there was a
climate of insecurity. Students who were at school to do their work
were bothered by these people," Rainville said.

Police said all of the students arrested during the school day were
expected to be released after appearing in court yesterday. They have
all been suspended from their schools indefinitely.

Pierre Buisson, head of the Hautes Rivieres School Board, said the
students' school status will be reviewed on an individual basis after
the courts have ruled.

One of the bail conditions students had to accept as a condition for
their release is that they are not allowed within 200 metres of their
school until their court case is over.

Rainville said he believes the problem of student drug trafficking is
common in Quebec and "directly related" to things like petty extortion
and theft.

"Our expertise has permitted us to learn that drug trafficking does
not recognize borders and is a phenomenon that you could find in any
other school, be it private or public," he said.

Buisson said he believes the problem is not unique to the two schools
under the Hautes Rivieres board, where new anti-drug programs were put
in place last year.

"In terms of consumption, the schools in our region are not different
from those elsewhere," he said, citing statistics that suggest between
30 and 35 per cent of high-school students use marijuana regularly.

"There is taxing, there is violence in our schools, but it is not a
phenomenon that is out of control," he said. "It is a problem at other
schools. Our schools are not different from others."


Pubdate: Thu, 11 Dec 2003
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)