US Customs and Border Protection opening Canadian mail angers some island residents

Web photo The bridge from Lubec, Maine to Campobello Island. Mail destined for residents of the island is being opened and searched by US customs agents, and island residents think their privacy rights may be being violated in the process.

Campobello – Residents of Campobello have long been asking for a year-round ferry to mainland Canada so they don’t have to travel through the United States. Now, residents have another transportation issue which seems to be quite unique to the island; island mail going through the United States is being subject to search and seizure by US border patrol agents.

Justin Tinker, a concerned island resident and key player in the bid to have year-round ferry service from Canada to Campobello, said the problem is because there is no direct link from mainland Canada to Campobello. Canada Post must contract trucks to drive to St. Stephen and pick-up mail for islanders, and then take it through Calais to deliver it to residents on Campobello. Tinker understands this is something that the US is well within its rights to do, but it is still causing a lot of grief for island residents.

“Any parcel, any piece that’s crossing the international border into the US is subject to customs and border patrol inspections. I totally understand that. The problem is, for anyone else in Canada, for law enforcement to open anyone’s mail they have to convince a judge there is a reason to do it. With the current situation with the mail going through the US and then down to Campobello, that doesn’t exist,” said Tinker.

Tinker said this is not an issue anywhere else in Canada, because this situation is unique to Campobello. But, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the New Brunswick Privacy Act, this goes against the rights of Canadian citizens on Campobello Island. He said every package is opened and inspected to search for items that are inadmissible into the US. He added this wasn’t really much of a problem until the legalization of cannabis. Because there are people who order cannabis products through the mail, these items are being delivered and they are illegal in the US.

Tinker added no tracking numbers are given, and even the Post Mistress on the island is never made aware of whose packages are not being delivered, just that packages have been confiscated. The recipients of those parcels have no idea they have been seized until a week or two later, when their packages don’t arrive.

Tinker completely understands the reasoning for the searches, and said the US government is obviously well within its rights to do so. But, this is causing a lot of stress to many islanders, and many consider it to be an invasion of their privacy. There is also an issue when it comes to the delivery of certain medical supplies that are being opened, which compromises the safety of those supplies.

“There are health supplies that are shipped via Canada Post that need to stay sealed in order to be sterile,” said Tinker. “When that package is opened for inspection, they can’t be used because there is no guarantee that they’re sterile. It’s an unintended consequence, but none the less, there are some people on Campobello who suffer from it.”

Tinker said there are some people who see this as an “assault on their personal privacy”, because Campobello is the only part of Canada subject to having mail searched by a foreign entity. He added that 86 per cent of island residents would agree there is a need for a year-round ferry service, but the 14 per cent who don’t agree are those on council who make the decisions for the island. Then you have all three levels of government passing the buck and pointing fingers at one another, and none are willing to stand up and look for solutions to the problem.

“You have finger pointing going on between the provincial and federal levels of government,” said Tinker. “The federal government looks at it and says transportation is a provincial portfolio, which it is. The provincial government says the transportation is already there and there are road networks that connect Campobello to Canada. But, the fact that it goes through an international border makes it a federal issue. So, you have both levels of government pint fingers at each other and saying it’s not their problem.”

One of the things that bothers Tinker about this issue is there are ferries connecting Deer Island and Grand Manan to mainland Canada, but Campobello doesn’t have a year-round ferry service. He added for $1 million annually, Coastal Transport could provide that much-needed service to the island, running from Campobello to L’Etete.

The biggest concern for Tinker and many other residents is privacy, which he said as Canadians residents are entitled to – both federally and provincially. He said he understands customs agents are simply doing a job they have been told to do, and he would never begrudge them that. But, it affects islanders in a huge way.

“It’s unfortunate that Canada Post and the government at various levels are stuck in a finger pointing contest instead of standing up for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it applies to Campobello,” said Tinker.

“There are several articles within the charter that apply to protections against unnecessary search and seizure, forfeiture, and particularly the privacy act in New Brunswick.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca