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Up-to-date equipment demanded for Customs

An American charged with drug offences after a scuffle in a motel room in London, Ont., this week is not unknown to police -- or federal Immigration authorities, for that matter. Phillip Snead has been deported 12 times.

The arrest came on the day that Toronto police lambasted Ottawa, saying Canada is a "sieve" that allowed two Jamaicans accused of violent robbery and hostage-taking to re-enter the country.

The arrest prompted opposition calls for Customs officials to be better equipped and was cited by an opposition critic as further justification for the introduction of biometric identification -- a position echoed by Immigration Minister Denis Coderre.

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Mr. Coderre, who noted yesterday that Canada Customs officers do the first inspections at the border and refer only those raising suspicions to Immigration officers, has proposed a national identity card that would include fingerprints or an eye scan. He said such a card may have helped the Customs officers prevent the deportees from entering the country.

"If those people were deportees, it means there were some fingerprints [taken] If you have some fingerprints, maybe it would have been a great opportunity to use biometrics to see, at the primary [inspection]line, who is passing through."

Mr. Snead, who has two children in Canada, was arrested early Thursday after police were called to investigate a possible sexual assault at the London motel. The allegation eventually was dropped, but Constable Paul Martin of the London Police said the investigating officers found marijuana and crack cocaine in the motel room.

One man in the room was arrested and put into a holding cell. The other turned out to be Mr. Snead. In his 29 years, Mr. Snead has been deported 12 times -- most recently in the fall of 2001.

In 1999, after he was found with a 12-gauge shotgun under his couch and the butt of a handgun sticking out from his belt, a judge said Mr. Snead seemed to think "there's a revolving door between Windsor and Detroit."

Constable Martin said his force is frustrated at having to arrest the same man repeatedly. "Resources are so very limited and, when it's not only criminal investigations but also immigration investigations, it takes up a considerable amount of manpower and time."

But of greater concern, deportees can be very dangerous, Constable Martin said.

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"If we have an individual who is coming to Canada and has a history of removal orders, he may consider his jeopardy to be higher. They don't want to get deported back to the United States or elsewhere, and who knows what expense they are willing to go to?"

Collette Gentes-Hawn, a Customs spokeswoman, said it is difficult to say how a person such as Mr. Snead gets back into the country. It could be that he is crossing the Detroit River, she said, thus eluding Customs officers.

But every time it is apparent a deportee has slipped through the gate, "it just makes us work harder at what we do," she said.

Rahim Jaffer, the Customs and Revenue critic for the Canadian Alliance, said yesterday that the front-line Customs agents are doing the best job they can. But resources promised by then-immigration minister Elinor Caplan after Sept. 11., 2001, have not materialized at the borders, he said.

Mr. Jaffer said the government promised to hire and train more agents but instead put students in part-time positions. He complained that 45 per cent of border points are not connected to government or police-computer systems that would flag high-risk people. And he said it is time Canada moved to further harmonize its entry system with that of the United States.

"The U.S. is moving forward on a number of bio-style technological changes at the borders, [such as]new computer systems that have facial recognition . . . and they're even moving forward to iris technology."

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The idea alarms civil libertarians and privacy advocates, notably Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski, who said the notion is part of a "unprecedented assault" on privacy rights by Ottawa."

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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