Police in Niagara region are grappling with allegations of steroid use and drug smuggling involving their own officers in the wake of an arrest of one constable by U.S. authorities in April.
CBC News has learned that Niagara Regional Police Service supervisors have launched an investigation following the arrest of Const. Geoff Purdie, a decorated 13-year veteran of the force and a former police instructor at a local college. A number of front-line officers within its Fort Erie, Ont., detachment have also been reassigned.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent charged Purdie with conspiracy to export and distribute controlled substances after tracking Purdie's repeated trips from Fort Erie into Niagara Falls, N.Y., to pick up packages which, according to U.S. investigators, were sent to a private mail box filled with drugs.
A U.S. criminal complaint filed with the court says authorities seized a number of packages containing testosterone, Valium, Xanax, anabolic steroids and the main ingredient used to make GHB, commonly known as the "date rape drug," which had an estimated street value of $580,000.
The ongoing investigation involves members of the U.S Department of Homeland Security Border Enforcement Security Task Force, which is made up of eight U.S. law enforcement agencies, two specialists from Canada Border Services Agency, and officers from Toronto, Peel and Niagara police. The alleged smuggling network may have reached Brampton, Ont.
“[Purdie's] been suspended with pay and our professional standards group will — and are — conducting an investigation,” Niagara police Chief Jeff McGuire told CBC News.
However, McGuire refused to confirm how many other officers are under investigation.
CBC News spoke to numerous sources both in and outside the police service who say there is a shakeup underway at the Fort Erie detachment, particularly on the "C Platoon" where Purdie worked.
Chief McGuire played down the staff changes and was only willing to say that a number officers within the Fort Erie detachment have been reassigned. He also said one additional officer has been suspended pending further investigation.
"Getting into any details in relation to any officers’ suspensions and reason, or where they work is not fair to the officers at this point,” McGuire said.
According to the U.S. court documents, the shipments of drugs Purdie allegedly picked up were sent to a U.S. mail box that was registered to the owner of FITMASS, a fitness and nutritional supplement store in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The documents offer no hints as to what investigators suspect was the ultimate plan for the ingredient used to produce the date rape drug.
However, according to the arresting officer, U.S. and Canadian investigators are probing whether Purdie was involved in supplying steroids to a network across southern Ontario.
The owner of FITMASS refused to speak to CBC News when reporters approached his store this week.
“Some of that has come to our attention and will be investigated,” McGuire told CBC News when asked whether he was concerned about steroid use or trafficking by any of his officers.
Steroid use in and of itself is not illegal Niagara police spokesman Derek Watson said the force does not have a specific policy relating to steroids.
"However, it is covered under our general order relating to conduct,” he said.
Selling and distributing the controlled substances without the proper licensing is against the law. Numerous police forces in Canada and the U.S. have grappled with steroid abuse among officers who use the drugs for bodybuilding.
But some have run afoul of the public in instances of “roid rage,” where erratic behaviours and abuses of power by officers have been attributed to use of the drugs.
Police supervisors have also cautioned officers against the use of steroids given that their supply is usually dependent on illegal underground networks.
Chief McGuire, who only assumed his position as head of NRPS in June, also indicated that proving steroid use is not as simple as identifying officers who appear burly or very muscular.
“We’re all different and a lot of people you can’t judge looking at them and suggest they may be on steroids," he said. "And quite frankly, I haven’t met the 730 police officers here, as yet, so if there is any allegation or suggestion of wrongdoing that comes out of any investigation, I’ll be sure that it’s investigated to the end because I‘m not going to tolerate misconduct or misbehaviour.
“I made that quite clear from the time that I got here.”
Purdie has been released on bail pending his next court date, which has been put over until Oct. 2, Katie Baumgarten, an assistant U.S. attorney, told CBC News.