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Earlier this month, the federal government indicated it would be stepping up security on the VIA rail system, in the wake of bomb plot earlier this year.

Now, anyone who wants to travel on VIA Rail, will be subject to security checks equivalent to the standard at any major airport in Canada.

Since we’re on the subject of national security, it’s time for the Canadian government to also review other transportation systems where security is lacking, or non-existent; such as the Marine Atlantic ferries.

Throughout the year, thousands of people, vehicles and baggage make the journey from Newfoundland to Canada, and vice versa, via the Gulf crossing from Port aux Basques to North Sydney.

While the federal government may think it’s just an inter-provincial transportation route, it is in fact, a little more than that, as history has shown.

It has been, in fact, and quite likely could still be, the entry point to Canada for drug smugglers.

Some people may remember the events of 1987. For those who may not, here’s the refresh.

This province garnered national headlines that year after RCMP arrested several people and seized tons of hashish in this province. The drugs had been smuggled from Asia and Europe and offloaded into abandoned communities in Trinity Bay. From there it was shipped by smaller boats to shore, loaded onto transport trucks and driven to the ferry terminals to get to mainland Canada and distribution throughout Canada and the US.

Montreal crime boss Vitto Rizzuto and several others were arrested. On an autumn day in 1987 the RCMP made their move - after several months of undercover work -seizing $225 million (street value) worth of hashish.

Most of it was found stored in Ireland’s Eye, an abandoned community just a short boat ride from Trinity.

They also intercepted a transport truck near Gander that same day, loaded with hashish, bound for the ferry in Port aux Basques.

While it might sound daring to try to drive a tractor-trailer loaded with drugs onto a federally-operated ferry, it wasn’t.

There were not - and still aren’t - any customs-like spot checks in place for vehicles and people boarding the ferries in Port aux Basques or Argentia.

The driver of a vehicle is only required to show ID.

Walk-on passengers aren’t required to show ID and there are only very random and sporadic spot-checks of baggage carried by walk-on passengers.

Passenger vehicles are hardly ever checked for contents. Transport trucks are hardly ever held up for a thorough inspection.

The criminals who masterminded the drug run from Ireland’s Eye to mainland Canada saw the ferry system as a non-existent risk - a smooth sail if you like - to get their illegal goods into Canada and the US.

Unbelievably, in the wake of the Ireland’s Eye drug bust and the evidence that pointed to Newfoundland being a strategic point of entry for illegal drugs, the federal government did absolutely nothing to beef up security or travel protocol to the ferry system.

And organized crime, despite the loss of millions of dollars worth of hashish from Ireland’s Eye, continued to do business from Newfoundland.

Two years after Ireland’s Eye, the RCMP scored another point against drug runners when they busted up another operation.

Once again the smugglers were using abandoned communities on Newfoundland’s north east coast as the landing points for drugs, bringing the hashish by boat to Little Heart’s Ease for loading onto transport trucks.

Once again, the ferry run from Port aux Basques to North Sydney was the point of entry for the drugs bound for Canadian and US markets.

There haven’t been many drugs seized from ferry travellers since then.

But that doesn’t mean the ferry system has ceased to be a smugglers highway.

With only sporadic luggage checks, only a passing glance at the IDs of drivers, and no RCMP or sniffer dog presence at the port or on board the ferry, there is no way of knowing how much of what is entering Canada via North Sydney.

If the Canadian government considers it wise to beef up security for the VIA rail system to ensure passenger safety and national security, surely it will take the next logical step and apply the same security protocols for the Marine Atlantic system.

Reprinted from the Clarenville Packet, by editor,

Barbara Dean-Simmons editor@thepacket.ca

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