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Truck full of drugs raided on way to B.C. music festival

The 28-year-old driver of a truck and trailer heading to catch a Swartz Bay ferry, on the way to an electronic music festival in the West Kootenays.

 Photos: Seven of the vehicles seized by Central Saanich police. / Saanich PolicePhotos: Seven of the vehicles seized by Central Saanich police. / Saanich Police

The 28-year-old driver of a truck and trailer heading to catch a Swartz Bay ferry, on the way to an electronic music festival in the West Kootenays, has been arrested with a large haul of illicit drugs, cash, drug scales and packaging.

Central Saanich police said the local resident was headed to the 22nd annual Shambhala music festival in Salmo, about 35 kilometres east of Trail, from today through Monday. Police are recommending charges of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

The man is the subject of a months-long investigation that has resulted in two prior arrests for alleged drug trafficking starting in February.

“He stayed active and we looked at him again in April and seized some more [drugs] and, hopefully, this was the last and he’s getting the message,” said Central Saanich police Deputy Chief Derren Lench.

“Hopefully, with the totality of being picked up once and a second time and now dealing with him a third time … hopefully, some kind of message is sent through the court system.”

The most recent search warrant, executed on Aug. 6, resulted in seizure of drugs believed to be cocaine, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), methamphetamine, LSD, Xanax and other pharmaceuticals, police said.

Scales, drug packaging, and about $1,500 in cash were also seized.

“We wanted to intercept him in advance of that [Shambhala] and stop him and his truck and trailer and seize all these drugs that were obviously en route to that festival.”

In Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala is a mythical kingdom. The Shambhala Music Festival, which attracts many participants from Vancouver Island, was voted in DJ Mag as the best music festival in North America this year, ahead of Coachella.

The festival’s website says it is alcohol-free and that matters involving illegal substances will be turned over to the RCMP.

Shambhala festival founder Jimmy Bundschuh said in an email: “We do not condone the use of illicit substances at our festival.

“Drugs are not just a problem for music festivals but for our society as whole,” said Bundschuh. “Our security team conducts searches and investigations of incoming vehicles to seize any illegal substances.”

The safety of festival goers is paramount and why the festival is considered an industry leader in harm reduction for over a decade, said Bundschuh. It has a program “that continues to inform provincial public policy.”

Drug trafficking is a concern for every community in Canada and Central Saanich is not immune, said Lench. Of most concern is youth attending music festivals having access to drugs that, even if not laced with a potent or deadly dose of fentanyl or carfentanil, might simply react badly with personal chemistry, leading to “tragic results.”

The Central Saanich police drug investigation began in December 2018. Since then, police have seized about $75,000 worth of illicit drugs, $36,000 in cash, 19 cellphones and nine vehicles.

The two prior charges of drug trafficking against the man are making their way through the court system. An investigation into the alleged drug trafficker’s colleagues and supplier remains open.

Referrals to the Civil Forfeiture Office have thus far resulted in claims against the man’s Central Saanich residence, cash and the original seven vehicles seized, police said.

It’s hoped that a message is sent that people can’t use the benefits and profits of crime to buy high-end vehicles and homes, said Lench.

“Ultimately, it will be up to the court system to determine that and the appropriate punishment for someone who seems to be flagrantly disregarding the law even when caught.”

Lench said Central Saanich police are conducting investigations to keep illicit drugs out of the community and at the same time will continue to educate students about the risks and consequences of drug use and trafficking.