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British man stunned after six-day detention for drug test on ashes

Russell Laight was jailed for six days after Canadian border agents in Newfoundland carried out a drug test on a recently deceased friend's ashes that he was bringing to Canada.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A British man who was jailed for six days after Canadian border agents carried out a drug test on a recently deceased friend's ashes says he's angered it took so long before a retest allowed his release from a small cell.

Russell Laight, 41, was travelling from Britain to Nova Scotia when his flight was diverted to St. John's, N.L., due to a storm on March 2.

He says when he landed he was "gobsmacked" when Canada Border Services Agency agents took him aside to say a test showed the ashes of a boyhood friend he was bringing to friends in Nova Scotia turned out to have tested positive for the drug ketamine.

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Laight says after being arrested, charged and jailed, he was asked for a large sum for bail and declined because he felt that further information would show he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

"I think they (the Canada Border Services Agency) should have to automatically do a followup test," he said during a telephone interview from his friend's home in Halifax.

He says his stay in a St. John's jail cell was difficult and frightening, as he watched the first week of his vacation disappear and found correctional officers unwilling to talk to him as he explained his innocence.

"The inmates were kinder than the guards," he said.

Laight said a follow up test was carried out by Health Canada after a request by his friends in Halifax. He says it countered the first result.

"After that came out negative, I was dubious about how it came out positive in the first place," he said.

Laight carried on to Halifax without the ashes of his friend Simon Darby and says he's still awaiting their arrival to deliver to his friends Rich Croft and Tracey Jonasson. Laight, Croft and Darby were boyhood friends in the United Kingdom and Laight was visiting Croft in Nova Scotia.

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Jonasson say in future the federal agency needs to ensure that secondary tests are carried out immediately to avoid similar detentions.

"Whatever they have on location malfunctioned and Russell suffered for it ... There is definitely a problem somewhere," she said.

Laight also says he realizes he should have filled out proper forms in order to transport human remains.

After his incarceration, family members of his deceased friend, Simon Darby, had to rush to gather up legal documents that included a list of the drugs used before Darby died of cancer.

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