By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer
As trade agreements like NAFTA boost international shipping, they also provide drug cartels and organized crime syndicates increased opportunities for growth and efficiency, a recent Canadian intelligence report says.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently released part of an intelligence report to The Canadian Press. The report says highly organized criminal organizations are demonstrating newfound power and profit by outfitting new customized compartments into trucks and trailers.
Aside from drugs, guns and humans, border police are increasingly seizing large amounts of cash at border checkpoints, the report says, according to The Canadian Press. The report says cocaine is the most common illegal commodity found in trucks coming to Canada from the U.S., and marijuana is most often found
Royal Canadian Mounted Police say 99 percent of illegal immigrants in the U.S. enter through the U.S.-Mexico border, but drugs, money and humans are increasingly coming both ways through the nation’s shared border with Canada.
Border security in Canada is a major concern for both countries, even with this week’s news that the White House has reached an agreement with Mexico expanding the cross-border trucking program at the southern border.
Eighty percent of Canada’s 33 million residents live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.
The intelligence report reportedly details a complicated scattershot of responsibilities divided between governments in both the U.S. and Canada, regulatory bodies and transportation groups. According to The Canadian Press, the report says trucking traffic is “expected to expand significantly over the next decade on North American Free Trade Agreement corridors.
Several criminal groups have obtained passes for the Free and Secure Trade Program, or FAST, a program that speeds registered trucks through border crossings. This “demonstrates the vulnerability of these measures,” the report states. Cargo that is seized, stolen or lost can result in beatings, kidnapping or murder if the driver doesn’t pay back money to the criminal organizations.
Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs, said “it’s no surprise to us that security programs intended to speed the flow of cross-border commerce are being exploited by criminal elements.”
“Beyond illegal contraband, organized gangs track and target high value shipments for theft at opportunistic times – like when a trucker stops to fuel,” Rajkovacz said.
One particular portion of the report highlighted a problem for owner-operators common in both Canada and the United States.
According to The Canadian Press, “Increased competition and stricter security and environmental requirements are combining to squeeze out smaller companies and their drivers, the report says.”
The intelligence report’s findings on driving out small trucking competition is noteworthy, Rajkovacz said.
“This statement is in line with concerns we’ve voiced that many of the supposed ‘security/safety enhancements’ put in place for cross-border trucking were nothing more than a means to squeeze out small-business motor carrier competition,” said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs. “This is courtesy of the same folks who consistently cry about ‘leveling the playing field’ on issues such as EOBRs, speed limiters, and a wide assortment of small-business-killing regulatory efforts.”
According to a 2007 border threat assessment, marijuana and ecstasy typically are smuggled into the U.S. from Canada, while cocaine, tobacco, currency and weapons are smuggled into Canada from the U.S.
The 2007 report also cited highly “organized crime groups” that use counter surveillance, intimidation and other means to smuggle drugs, cash, guns and people across the border.
“The transport trucking industry, companies and drivers have been used to move large volumes of drugs in both directions,” that report states.
Sophisticated hidden compartments in trucks, vehicles and tires continue to be used.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is asking anyone who sees suspicious groups or individuals seeking directions to and from the border to call 911, or local police.
The full 2011 intelligence report is not immediately available for reporters, an RCMP spokeswoman told Land Line Thursday.
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