News | Port of Montreal gateway for drugs

International conflicts spill into Canada via illicit trade

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials confiscated 1,700 kilograms of hashish from a container aboard a South African ship entering the port of Montreal on February 18.

The seizure came shortly after 97 kilograms of opium were confiscated from a shipping container from Iran in late January, making it the second of two major drug busts at the port in the span of two months.

Dominique McNeely, a spokesperson for the CBSA, said that tracking drug shipments into Montreal can often be difficult for officials working at the port.

“It’s a challenge for all customs agencies all across the world, because the vast majority of goods which come into the country are legitimate and necessary,” said McNeely. “There is a small percentage of illegal materials. Our mission is to find that percentage.” She added that roughly one million ships come in and out of the Port of Montreal every year, and the goods that arrive are mainly from abroad.

Prevention of drug trafficking often requires the efforts of security personnel in their country of origin, the go-between regions, and the nation that receives the narcotics.

According to the 2009 UN World Drug Report, “large scale illicit crop cultivation seems to require political instability.” The report also states that “traffickers may prefer authoritarian regimes.”

Unstable regions are also easy conduits for drugs produced elsewhere, on their way to Europe or North America.

“Failed states can become huge sources for drugs, and certainly for money and human trafficking,” said McGill political science professor Mark Brawley, citing the example of Bosnia in the late 90s.

The U.S. has pushed Mexico to confront drug trafficking as a security issue. “All that [has] done is ramped up all the violence,” says Brawley. On the other hand, Brawley claims, the same effort in Columbia would render better results. “What you were dealing with there were bigger organized proto-state revolutionaries. To take them on in a militarized fashion might have worked.”

McNeely, however, stated, “What you have to do is actually find people some way of making a living that’s as good as raising illegal crops.”

She added that the issue of imported illegal materials goes beyond drugs. “Our agency is responsible for enforcing over 90 laws and regulations. That can include stolen cars, drugs, food, plant, and animal products that don’t meet our requirements,” said McNeely.