COLUMN: Disturbing trend at the U.S.-Canada border

Recent stories about people-smuggling involving the Smuggler’s Inn in Blaine, and a man who has pleaded guilty to smuggling people through Peace Arch Park, should cause some serious reflection on just how secure the U.S.-Canada border really is.

In the Smuggler’s Inn case, owner Robert Boule is facing 21 charges of aiding and abetting seven people to enter Canada illegally. Smuggler’s Inn is located adjacent to the border in a more rural area of Blaine, east of the Pacific Highway border crossing. Appropriately, it is located on Canada View Drive.

The other case saw Michael Kong recently plead guilty to four of seven charges of smuggling Chinese nationals into Canada through the park, which can be accessed from both countries.

The charges against him involve 34 people, some of whom were children. People can wander into Canada from the U.S. and vice versa without showing passports, supposedly just within the park itself. Kong clearly took advantage of the minimal oversight on the Canadian side.

Court was told that Chinese nationals would come to the U.S. on a valid visa, and then be taken to the Blaine entrance to Peace Arch Park. They would appear to be tourists, taking photos and stopping to admire the flowers. An email uncovered during the investigation instructed the would-be border jumpers to “smile” and “be natural” when walking through the park.

After meandering into Canada, they would meet up with someone who would guide them to a waiting vehicle on the Canadian side. This system ensured they could enter Canada and bypass the nearby Douglas border crossing station.

Electronic ledgers found on a computer in Kong’s home listed the names of more than 900 foreign nationals believed to have been smuggled between 2011 and 2016. Some later filed refugee claims in Canada, and a few were apparently smuggled into the U.S.

The response to a reporter’s inquiry about who on the Canadian side of the border was responsible for patrolling the park was indicative of why this problem exists. Canada Border Services Agency said it was the RCMP’s responsibility. The RCMP said Peace Arch Park was “a collaborative, layered responsibility that is patrolled in partnership with CBSA, Surrey RCMP and an RCMP federal unit.”

As a former employee of Customs who worked at Douglas, and an occasional visitor to Peace Arch Park, I can honestly say that I have never seen police patrolling the park. I have noticed the U.S. Border Patrol keeping an eye on the American side of the park on occasion, but similar vigils on the Canadian side seem to be non-existent.

CBSA practices have likely changed since my days at Customs, but at that time no one in the Douglas buildings was paying attention to activity in Peace Arch Park. People working there had more than enough to do, dealing with an endless stream of cars and determining if further secondary examinations were warranted.

The issue of jumping the border has been a hot topic in recent years, with thousands of people crossing the border into Canada away from ports of entry, mostly in Quebec, and then claiming refugee status. It will be an election issue in this fall’s federal election.

That such activities are routinely going on in South Surrey is disturbing, to say the least.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.

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