VOA's Chris Simkins reports from British Columbia on heightened efforts by Canadian police to prevent border violations, especially by would-be terrorists trying to smuggle deadly weapons in or out of the country.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constables Jeep Johnstone and Ivan Sabo are patrolling the waters that separate British Columbia, Canada and the United States. They are part of Canada's first line of defense in protecting the homeland against would be terrorists and preventing cross border crimes.
It wasn't far from here that an al-Qaida bomber from Algeria, Ahmed Ressam, was caught with a fake Canadian passport and with a carload of explosives on a ferry from Victoria, Canada to the western U.S. state of Washington. He told police that he planned to use the explosives to carry out a New Year's Eve bombing attack at Los Angeles International Airport in 1999.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Doug Kiloh says since then, and especially after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, Canada has tightened security at strategic border locations. He also stated, "We have developed integrated border enforcement teams across the country to deal with specific issues along the 49th parallel, both land, marine and air units. We have learned and we continue to learn. Failure to learn is failure for us to be prepared."
Patrolling the waters for illegal activity is extremely challenging because of the sheer size of the area and the amount of boat and ship traffic here.
Constables Johnstone and Sabo say they take it one day at a time and remain vigilant. On one patrol mission they have a boat under surveillance and stop it. When the men cannot produce identification the police get suspicious.
Later, they discover one of the men has a Canada-wide immigration warrant for his arrest and has a stolen credit card in his pocket. After searching the boat, police then find drugs.
Constable Ivan Sabo tells the suspects after finding the drugs, "Gentlemen you are all under arrest for the possession of a control substance, cannabis marijuana."
By the time the suspects return to the boat dock in handcuffs police made another find, thanks to some help from the public.
Constable Sabo recounted, "When he came off the boat he had his hands behind him and one of the citizens there saw him toss four packages into the water when he was getting off. I am going to field test it just to make sure, then I am going to arrest him. "You are under arrest for the possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking," he told the suspect.
Constable Johnstone added, "Well, there is lots of this activity going on out there, on a small scale like this to a very large scale. You go to check anybody and everything."
The police say they hope their stricter border enforcement practices along the U.S.-Canada boundary will make it more difficult for criminals to get away with cross-border crimes, up to and including terrorism.