Pubdate: Mon, 28 Jul 2008
Source: Gulf News, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2008 .
Author: Peter Walsh


Police Say Ferries Are The No. 1 Transportation Choice Of Smugglers

Smugglers choose federal crown corporation Marine Atlantic ferries 
most often to move illegal drugs and tobacco from Nova Scotia to 
Newfoundland and Labrador, but police and ferry officials do not 
routinely screen passengers and vehicles for contraband, according to 
an investigation by The Telegram.

"We live on an island. Almost everything comes by Marine Atlantic," 
wrote RCMP Staff Sgt. Jim Power about smuggling in Newfoundland.

Power was responding to an access to information request for records 
related to alcohol, tobacco and drug smuggling linked to Marine 
Atlantic ferries over the past three and half years.

"To fill this request would take considerable time ... we would have 
to review between 600 and 700 many instances we would not 
be able to determine how (the contraband) came to the province...we 
view the Marine Atlantic very much as the highway. It would be 
difficult to say how much contraband was transported by highway," said Power.

The province's other main police force - the Royal Newfoundland 
Constabulary - also knows drugs are coming across the Gulf of St. 
Lawrence on federal government ferries.

The RNC recently said the province's improving economy has led to an 
increased demand for drugs.

"We know through our investigations that some of the drugs that have 
come into the province have Marine Atlantic links," said Deputy Chief 
Bob Johnston.

Marine Atlantic's ferry service sailing from North Sydney, N.S., is 
the only link for vehicles being driven to the island of Newfoundland.

"Marine Atlantic Inc. does not have the jurisdiction to conduct 
investigations that relate to activities referred to in your 
request," said Marine Atlantic's interim president, John Roil.

Instead, the corporation relies on police to investigate smuggling. 
The federal Department of Agriculture questions all drivers leaving 
Newfoundland about plants and vegetables in their vehicles, which are 
then sprayed to protect against the spread of crop diseases in 
mainland Canada, but police do not question or screen passengers or 
cars coming to the province for illegal tobacco or drugs.

"As far as rigorous policing of Marine Atlantic boats for illegal 
activity, I'm not aware of any program," said Keith King, a St. 
John's-based security consultant and former 15-year RCMP auxiliary officer.

"That's not to say there's nothing going on. From time to time they 
do special projects. But it's considered part of the highway, so on 
the boat itself, I'm not aware of any police program."

King patrolled Newfoundland highways and has been involved in many 
drug busts. He said the bottleneck of cars waiting to board ferries 
in North Sydney is an ideal policing situation that is being missed.

"There's an opportunity there to monitor with checkpoints coming from 
Cape Breton. It wouldn't take that long, because a lot of the 
vehicles have got to be there for a certain time before the boats 
leave, so there is an opportunity there for Customs or RCMP or 
whoever wants to do it. Really, there's no reason why a couple of 
officers with dogs can't be on at all times just walking back and 
forth in the parking lot."

King says police dog units are relatively inexpensive and provide 
"huge benefits to the province and to policing, and they're worth 
their weight in gold."

The RNC and RCMP have jurisdiction on Marine Atlantic ferries. The 
RNC - like the RCMP - consider the ferry routes an extension of the 
Trans-Canada Highway. RNC officers do not regularly police Marine 
Atlantic ferries, but sometimes board the vessels armed with search 
warrants when they are following up on specific information provided 
by confidential information.

Johnston, the deputy chief, agreed that spot checks, metal detectors 
and police dogs would likely result in more drug seizures, but he 
said acting on confidential information is the RNC's preferred way to 
fight drug smuggling.

He said the force recently hired more drug intelligence officers.

"Drug enforcement is not done through random checks," said Johnston. 
"Our strongest defence in terms of dealing with this is the strength 
of the intelligence community, in terms of information of who's 
bringing it into the province. We've doubled the size of our drug 
section, not only here in St. John's, but in Corner Brook and 
Labrador. So, there's more enforcement."

Johnston said some of the RNC's recent successful drug cases have 
involved Marine Atlantic's co-operation.

Marine Atlantic said the Cape Breton Regional Police also has 
jurisdiction on Marine Atlantic ferries, but Cape Breton police told 
The Telegram they don't police drug smuggling.

"That would be the RCMP," said Anne McGilvery of the Cape Breton 
Regional Police.

The RCMP - like the RNC - relies on confidential information to 
investigate drug smuggling and prefers to deal with smugglers once 
they exit the ferry, rather than routinely police the vessels.

"I am not aware of any records with respect to RCMP counter-measure 
security protocols related to Marine Atlantic," wrote Power, the RCMP 
staff sergeant.

Keith King, the security consultant, doesn't deny the value of 
confidential informants in fighting drug smuggling, but he says it's 
not enough.

"I think they should do whatever they can do because (illegal drugs) 
are an issue," said King.

"They are in the high schools. They're rampant. In one particular 
high school, I can name 14 people who are selling drugs and they're 
getting it from somewhere, so I'm for whatever it takes to stop it. 
Do I believe most of the drugs are coming (via Marine Atlantic 
ferries)? Absolutely."

Police interviewed for this story said drugs also enter the province 
by courier, the ferry service to Lewisporte and via the Oceanex 
shipping terminal in St. John's.

King said Marine Atlantic is worried passengers would be angered by 
check points, X-ray devices and police dogs and it is more concerned 
with protecting the provincial tourism industry, than catching smugglers.

"That's not a fair comment, because we have no mandate to stop 
drugs," said Marine Atlantic's security officer, John Trickett.

"If there was a tonne of marijuana rolled into the terminal and it 
was blatantly obvious, I'm sure as good corporate citizens the police 
would become aware of it, but to go out and screen and scan and be 
proactive in drug detection, we have no right to do that at this stage."

The RNC's deputy chief said screening passengers and vehicles isn't a 
simple matter.

"There's a whole bunch of things you'd have to look at," said 
Johnston. "The impact on Marine Atlantic traffic; is there an 
infringement by doing that kind of random search? I don't think 
that's a question that can be answered without in-depth research."

See next week for part two.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart