VICTORIA -- UPDATE: On Monday, Aug. 31, Victoria police announced that 14 of the 17 people wanted in the investigation had been arrested, leaving two men and one woman still outstanding.

Victoria police say five people have been arrested and 12 are still at large following an undercover drug-trafficking investigation based in Centennial Square.

The investigation began on Aug. 11 following an increase in crime “linked to the drug trade” in the area, which houses a homeless encampment, say police.

Just one day before the investigation launched, two stabbings took place in Centennial Square. Before that, multiple assaults were seen in the square and a window was shot and broken by a compressed air gun at Victoria city hall, which is located at the edge of the square.

Police say that between Aug. 11 and 15, officers performed surveillance on the area and several undercover officers posed as customers to purchase drugs from tents set up in the homeless encampment in Centennial Square.

Overall, undercover officers were able to buy methamphetamine, cocaine, psilocybin and fentanyl from tents in the square.

Police say that they found that multiple tents were being used on a “rotating basis” to sell drugs. A tent would be emptied of bedding to use for drug deals one day, then bedding would be returned to the tent and someone would sleep there the next day.

“The following day, the bedding would be removed and the same tent would revert to being used for drug trafficking,” said VicPD in a release Wednesday.

Meanwhile, police say that they saw at least one person leave their home in a vehicle, park about a block away from Centennial Square, then go to a tent in the square and conduct drug transactions during the day.

VicPD adds that at one point, officer stopped a man in Centennial Square who was carrying a concealed metal club. The man told police that he had the weapon “as protection against the violence in Centennial Square.”

Undercover officers say they also faced threats of violence while working in the square.

As of Thursday, five of the 17 suspects related to the investigation had been arrested and charged with trafficking a controlled substance, say police.

Meanwhile, 12 people – 11 men and one woman – remain at large and are wanted on warrants related to the drug trafficking investigation. One other individual is facing a robbery charge related to the investigation.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in a statement that she was grateful that the police department was taking a proactive approach to crime in Centennial Square.

“I’m glad the police are cracking down on criminal activity and drug trafficking,” she said.

“Unlike poverty, these are criminal offences and should be dealt with in a proactive manner as VicPD (has) done in this instance. I appreciate their diligence and hard work.” 

The five people who have been arrested so far are: Jamaal Ali Johnson, 41, Desaree Gloria-Lee Solley, 35, Tomas Paul Podhora, 28, Christopher John Ferland, 31 and Julian Michael Peterson, 23.