When it comes to the geography of smuggling, Canada is in a league of its own, says Stephen Schneider, associate professor of criminology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and author of Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada. “There is no country in the world that has the conditions for smuggling like we do.”
Think about it: an enormous land mass and airspace, three ocean coastlines, a majority of the population living in close proximity to a border with the world’s largest exporter and consumer of contraband and a relatively small tax base with which to police it all.
In the face of heightened border security following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, traffickers of drugs, weapons, contraband and people have proven adaptive and resilient. And they have always been so. Since Prohibition, when the first rum-runners on the prairies stuffed bottles into their boots, two parallel economies have coexisted in Canada and the United States: one above-ground and another underground.
Schneider says the same dynamics shape both economies. Indeed, smugglers are susceptible to supply and demand fluctuations and are most pervasive in regions where legitimate trade is already active. They often use the same passenger aircraft, major highway border crossings and recreational waterways or seaborne cargo containers.
When mapped out, it is easy to see how the powerful gravitational draw of urban population density dictates where the majority of smuggling occurs. It’s largely a matter of efficiency. “Criminality follows the demographic,” says RCMP Superintendent Warren Coons, director of a Canada–U.S. Integrated Border Enforcement Team initiative. “The easiest thing to do if you are a criminal organization is go the shortest distance to deliver your product to market.”