People in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas neighborhood have lived under siege for a long time. Certainly, they’ve rued the day Sandra Guiboche took up residence – which multiplied into 10 residences clustered in a convenient 1.5 km radius – in their community. 

It’s not a particularly affluent area of the city, so one could marvel at the ability of one person to amass so many homes. Or, like alert area residents, become suspicious.  

They were at the mercy of heavy traffic and an influx of strangers prowling around at all hours, lured by drug operations that community members correctly suspected were being run out of these homes. Peace was regularly shattered by noise, disturbances and parties. Their sense of safety for themselves and their children was threatened.

For years, they complained. Fed up, residents banded together to call in help. 

The calvary finally arrived.

The Winnipeg Police Drug Enforcement Unit, flanked by members of other units and the RCMP, recently busted this crack cocaine ring after a five-month investigation called Project Matriarch. It was so named in recognition of Guiboche’s perceived prestigious – although yet to be proven in court – role in the organized criminal operation.

Guiboche, 57, faces a host of charges, including drug trafficking, possessing property obtained by crime and laundering the proceeds of crime. She was the initial target on police radar. The investigation manifested into the takedown of one of the larger criminal operations in Winnipeg. It led to the arrest of 26 people facing, to date, more than 100 charges including drug trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering and proceeds of crime. 

Property and evidence seized is valued at more than $2.3 million. That includes cocaine, crack cocaine, lots of cash, a loaded semi-automatic handgun, ammunition, a 2016 BMW X5, jewelry, and a skid steer. In fairness to the skid steer, it allegedly was not used to help the ring haul copious quantities of illegal, soul and life-destroying drugs.

Criminal Property Forfeiture has filed a statement of claim for multiple bank accounts and the 10 homes. The houses are owned by Guiboche and are mortgage free, confirmed Const. Rob Carver, with Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).

This ring was allegedly buying one-to-two kilograms of unprocessed cocaine a month from other ultra-high-end suppliers within Manitoba. The cocaine – likely smuggled in from Central and South America – would be processed into crack cocaine and distributed from these houses.

“This was a homegrown operation. Not only were the drugs being manufactured and sold and distributed out of Point Douglas, but the people we arrested were residents geographically within that area,” says Carver. “It is believed that Sandra Guiboche was at the top, or near the top of this particular group involved in this drug operation.” 

Hence, he says, it was dubbed Project Matriarch.

“Illegal drugs such as cocaine and crack cocaine continue to pose risks to the safety and well-being of citizens,” says Carver. “Addiction, property crime and acts of violence are often the result of the drug subculture. The drug trade rules violence and is understood as a means of gaining or maintaining a share of the lucrative illicit drug market. The impact on individuals and communities can be devastating.”

Project Matriarch stopped a flow. WPS knows others are anxious to fill that void. 

“Criminals abhor a vacuum,” says Carver.

Indeed, illegal drugs permeate all neighbourhoods. But residents of Point Douglas have the safer, quieter community everyone deserves to live in. 

Maybe someone won’t overdose because this cache of confiscated drugs is safely tucked away. Manitoba saw a disturbing 87% increase in drug overdose deaths in 2020 as it was under varying degrees of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

However, in today’s increasingly offended society, safer neighborhoods and seizure of illegal drugs are apparently not what is of paramount importance. 

“Words” are. 

On the tail end of the recent press conference about Project Matriarch, an enabling CBC reporter shared concerns expressed by Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine who tweeted that matriarch is “a sacred word” and its use in this operation was “harmful.” 

More harmful than drug dealers, volatile and desperate addicts, loaded guns, crimes swirling around the drug trade and strangers flooding residential streets?

Crack cocaine is an ugly curse on society. Certainly, this truth doesn’t escape Fontaine. But why waste time fretting over a word approved by two female senior members of the Drug Enforcement Unit spearheading Project Matriarch? 

Some matriarchs are wise, good and deserve respect. Some do bad things. It’s that simple. 

To suggest any disrespect was intended with the use of matriarch is a stretch – and unfair to police who waded into these volatile cesspools to clean them up for the community. 

Sleep well Point Douglas.

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

Senior Columnist (Manitoba)

Linda Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard based out of Winnipeg. She has been an investigative columnist for the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and Alberta Report.

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