TORONTO, CANADA — In what seemed an unprecedented operation, the entire plane load of passengers on Air Canada flight AC 1803 from Kingston, Jamaica, had every peice of their luggage searched and some items confiscated by customs agents at Pearson Toronto International Airport here in Canada.
The late-night flight Thursday which had been delayed by almost an hour, leaving Kingston about 9:45, culminated with the two-hour long operation which featured several sniffer dogs and more customs agents than usual.
While the Jamaicans were visibly upset at having to bare everything in their luggage, as anxious relatives waited outside to pick them up, they co-operated with the Canadian customs officer and the search appeared to have been carried out without incident.
“I was flabbergasted by the search. I’ve just never seen an entire flight searched this thoroughly, because usually it is random,” shared Marcia Newby, who said she was a frequent visitor to Canada.
Several passengers said the agents had taken away tins of Grace Corned Beef, patties, opened tins of ackees, tore up small bags of coffee bought at duty-free shops at the airport, and rummaged through other packed items.
But most fruits like mangoes and soursop, sugar cane and sliced breadfruit survived the examination.
Asked the reason for confiscating the corned beef, one agent said the product was allowed in Canada only from the United States.
One passenger said he was disappointed with the operation but saw a positive in that he was spared the charge of Canadian (CAN) $1,500 for breach of airport rules when he did not declare the corned beef as meat.
“I could see that you were ignorant of the rules so I’ll use my discretion in not charging you,” the agent told him.
The agent confirmed that the search was for drugs but did not provide any details, as passengers speculated that they must have received a tip-off.
There was speculation that the unusual search of the Jamaicans was linked to an undercover operation carried out by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Kitchener, Canada, in which 11 people, including two Sunwing Airlines employees, were arrested and accused of importing cocaine through the Pearson Airport.
A CP24 news report Friday said raids were carried out in Hamilton, Toronto, Brantford, Kitchener and Durham Region, and seized 10 kilograms of fentanyl; 20 kilograms of cannabis and 1.3 kilograms of heroin valued at CAN$10 million.
The report quoted Staff Sergeant Blair Fuhrman of the RCMP as saying that while the charges filed against the employees related to the importation of cocaine from Jamaica, investigators “believe they were also involved in several, ongoing conspiracies involving mostly Caribbean countries”.
Air Canada did not immediately comment on the search of its AC 1803 passengers.