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Vulnerable Windsor truck crossing faces criticism

WINDSOR, Ont. - A report on border security for the Customs Excise Union Douanes Accise (CEUDA) found that, according to anecdotal evidence supplied in interviews with Canada Border Services Agency (C...

WINDSOR, Ont. – A report on border security for the Customs Excise Union Douanes Accise (CEUDA) found that, according to anecdotal evidence supplied in interviews with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Customs inspectors, there have been numerous incidents of trucks not reporting to Windsor’s secondary inspection facility, 3.4 km from the primary customs inspection location at the Ambassador Bridge. The report by Ottawa-based Northgate Group, a security and intelligence firm, was commissioned by the union and details security vulnerabilities faced by Customs officers across Canada. The union has long lobbied for inspectors to be armed, and late last month federal Conservative Party Justice Critic Vic Toews stated the incoming Harper government would in fact accede to their requests.

The report interviewed officers at ports of entry across Canada and concluded the Windsor port – the busiest commercial crossing between Canada and the United States – required “special mention.”

Because the bridge plaza’s secondary inspection area can only accommodate five trucks, the vast majority of trucks are sent the three kilometres to the so-called “off-site” facility, also known as the Canada Customs warehouse, just off Huron Church Rd., which links the bridge in part to Hwy. 401.

This rather unorthodox situation is based on an “honour system.” But, the report states, when Customs officers were asked to estimate how many trucks did not report, “the answers varied between one per day and 60 per day.” It also points to a Customs’ internal survey of officers that found varying estimates of “approximately one in every 10 trucks” to “approximately 60 trucks per day” did not proceed to secondary.

Furthermore, Northgate reported officers stating that trucks “dropped off their load of contraband before reporting to the warehouse.”

It said officers told interviewers of seeing trucks “parked off to the side of the road, on residential side-streets,” and in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.

“Others told of trucks they inspected at the warehouse that displayed fresh fingerprints on the cargo door, which they saw as moderate proof of a trucker dropping off a load of contraband before reporting to the warehouse,” said the report, and that “every sort of contraband imaginable (was) being dropped off, purchased, sold and delivered within sight of the bridge.”

Northgate pointed out the vulnerability of the lack of monitoring between primary and secondary in Windsor had been raised by the federal Auditor General as long ago as 2001. And “notwithstanding attempts to remedy the situation, Northgate’s observations and interviews suggest this massive breach of domestic safety and security continues four years later.”

Customs union Windsor district president Marie-Claire Coupal said monitoring of trucks sent from primary to secondary is woefully inadequate, adding “it would be the following day” before the paperwork gets from primary to secondary “and you realize you’re missing a truck. By that time they’re in Timbuktu.”

But Canada Border Services Agency spokesman Danny Yen took issue with suggestions the secondary facility was regularly evaded by unscrupulous truckers. In fact, he said, an “extremely high percentage” of trucks do in fact report to secondary. “And the ones that do not, virtually all of them, it’s because of driver error,” such as being unfamiliar with the warehouse location or making wrong turns and getting lost. Furthermore, Yen said he was “not aware” of any incidents of offloading contraband between the two sites.

Ron Lennox, vice-president trade and security for the Canadian Trucking Alliance, called the Windsor port “exceptional” because of the geographical distance between the primary and secondary sites.

“So clearly some different measures are required to make sure guys are actually reporting,” he said.

Lennox added that the rules must be enforced – “and that’s CBSA’s job.” Besides being illegal, Lennox added, truckers who evade secondary aren’t just breaking the law, they’re being unfair to “the guys who are reporting to secondary, doing what they’re told.”

The Northgate report also referred to Customs’ ability to use so-called Flying Response Teams (FLTs) – dubbed by officers the “Huron Church Patrol Team” and operated under the auspices of the Windsor port director – to go after suspicious truckers. “There does not appear to be a constant patrol 24 hours per day,” it says, “but a patrol that takes place for two hours during an officer’s 10 or 12 hour shift, which is designated as time he/she spends on patrol.”

The report said such patrols found parked trucks on the side of the road. Northgate said such situations threaten unarmed Customs officers who must approach a trucker who might be carrying out an illegal activity. “The risk to personal safety, especially while unarmed, is incredibly high,” it said.But Coupal, the union’s local president, said the report overstated the amount of vehicle monitoring that occurs by such teams. “We do have at team that would go if there was somebody suspicious,” she said. “But they don’t do this on a regular basis.”

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