Three Canadians are behind a massive pseudoephedrine distribution ring which provided the substance to clandestine meth labs, Australian authorities allege.
A total of eight Canadians have been arrested in Operation Diamondback, the Australian Federal Police said in a release Monday.
None were identified by police, but CHCH News reported Monday night two of the Canadians -- Catherine McNaughton, 30, and her cousin James Kelsey, 27 -- are from Fort Erie, Ont.
Reached by phone Monday night, Kelsey's distraught mother Joyce told QMI Agency she was stunned to hear the news from another resident in her building Monday morning.
"He's never, ever been in trouble with the law," she said, choking back tears. "He's always been a good kid."
She said her son went to Australia in September looking for work after he was cut off from welfare. He told her he had a job setting up displays in an electronics store, was thrilled to be working again and getting out of debt.
"It was like a vacation for him," she said.
She hasn't been able to speak with her son since the arrest Sunday and has "no idea" what her next step is.
"I'm lost right now, he's lost right now," she said. "I can't afford to go over there. I'm widowed, I live by myself, I live on pensions.
"With him, he was so far in debt, he was living in my niece's basement. Before that, he was just living anywhere he could. He just wanted a job."
A 46-year-old Canadian man was also arrested Sunday in Melbourne as he attempted to board a flight to Sydney, where he was set to catch a connecting flight to Canada.
Police say the three were "syndicate members" of the distribution ring, which put pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient in some cold medications, into vanilla powder. That was then shipped off the labs where it was turned into meth.
Australian Crime Commission Melbourne office manager Jonathan Nicholl said the vanilla powder was used to conceal the pseudoephedrine.
"We're dealing with organized crime groups who are experienced and undertake substantial planning," Nicholl said.
Over the course of the 18-month investigation, police seized 1.9 tonnes of a pseudoephedrine and vanilla powder mixture.
Police said depending on the purity, the meth created from the pseudoephedrine could have a street value of $100 million.
The three Canadians arrested Sunday have been charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence.
If found guilty, they could face life in prison.
Five other Canadian nationals and two Australian men have also been charged during the past 18 months, police said. Those charges include pre-trafficking commercial quantities of a controlled product and possessing equipment to manufacture drugs.
-- with files from John Law