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Several held as customs raid Bermuda flight

Several Bermudians have been detained in Canada after customs officers boarded a WestJet Airlines flight bound for the Island from Toronto.

The arrests came before take-off, according to a Bermuda Police spokesman, after the Canadian authorities became suspicious about “a number of persons” on the aircraft.

The Island's police have liaised with overseas agencies but did not provide official details on the nature of the sting.

However, a statement from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) emphasised the organisation's role in intercepting “illegal drugs and other contraband” at the Canadian border.

According to one passenger, who asked not to be named, everyone getting on to the WestJet flight on Sunday afternoon was questioned by a group of between eight and ten officers, who were accompanied by a sniffer dog.

“Once we got on the plane, two officers boarded and began questioning a male individual seated around row ten,” the man told The Royal Gazette. “He was asked to retrieve his carry-on from the overhead and was escorted off the plane.

“They returned to question another male passenger seated beside the first individual and he retrieved his carry-on and left, only to return a few minutes later. Once the officers left the plane, the pilot announced that there were 11 individuals who had been removed from the flight.

“As a result, the flight was delayed approximately 20 to 30 minutes as they had to find and remove the luggage from those 11 passengers. There were law enforcement vans on the tarmac beside the plane and I saw officers take at least two suitcases to one of the vans.”

WestJet airline confirmed yesterday afternoon that customs officers boarded flight 2710 from Pearson International Airport, which was due to take off shortly after 1.30pm. The airline gave no further details.

Spokeswoman Brie Thorsteinson Ogle said: “The aircraft was boarded by Canadian customs and that is the best place to seek any info.”

A spokeswoman for the CBSA confirmed that officers from the agency selected a number of people about to board the flight for “enforcement examination”.

“The Government of Canada is committed to a safe, secure and efficient border,” she added. “This is vital to Canada's economy and to the safety and security of all Canadians.

“The CBSA remains committed to the interdiction of illegal drugs and other contraband at our border. In preventing the smuggling of narcotics, including cocaine, at our entry points, border services officers help make communities safer.

“There are serious consequences for those convicted of smuggling drugs and other contraband including arrest, fines and jail time. Consequences for foreign nationals may also include removal from Canada and restrictions on future entry or employment in Canada.”

Border Services officers have the authority to search anyone entering or leaving Canada if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has “secreted on or about his person prohibited, controlled or regulated goods”, she said.

The passenger said the plane was boarded row by row, rather than by zones, as is usual. “They were actually quite specific and they boarded by row number. It was kind of strange.

“After our row number was called, we went up to the gate attendant and gave the boarding pass and only then we went through the little tunnel. The border control officers were in the little tunnel. They questioned everyone there, basically asking: Where were we a resident of? Where were we staying in Toronto? How much currency were we taking out of the country?

“After we answered those, they let us board. After I got on the plane, I didn't see 11 people being removed from the plane. They may have been stopped by the officers before they boarded.”

He described the man who was removed from the flight as a well-dressed young black male, in his late teens or early 20s.

Another passenger described the incident as “odd to watch” and a “weird experience”. He said there were about eight border patrol officers at the boarding gate, plus a sniffer dog.

“One person [was] not allowed to board there, two more [were] taken off [the] plane — one of whom returned — and about nine others were at gate but [were] not even allowed to get to the check desk.”

Customs officers swooped on a Bermuda-bound WestJet plane in Canada

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Published December 02, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 02, 2014 at 9:10 am)

Several held as customs raid Bermuda flight

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