RCMP/USCG: Shiprider Program
BLAIR WATSON
© 2009 FrontLine Security (Vol 4, No 2)

Since before Confederation, the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and other waterways through which the Canada-U.S. border runs have been maritime freeways used by smugglers. Booze, weapons, cigarettes, drugs and other cargoes such as illegal aliens have been transported between Canada and the United States for decades.  


RCMP Photo

Because of the smuggling trade, governments have lost billions of dollars in tax revenues, including an estimated $300 million annually in Quebec alone – where as many as four cartons of cigarettes out of ten sold are illicit.

Quebec’s Public Security Minister, Jacques Dupuis, said in April that Quebec police know that organized crime has taken control of tobacco smuggling in the province and uses boats to transport product between Canada and the USA.

On the west coast, “BC bud” is a $7 billion per year industry, and marine vessels are one of the forms of transportation used to move shipments of the popular marijuana across the Straight of Juan de Fuca into Washington.

Back east, shipments of illegal immigrants from Ontario into the U.S. have occurred across the Niagara and St. Clair Rivers, and from Quebec into Vermont and New York via Lake Champlain.

Since 9/11, the possibility of terrorists entering the U.S. by marine craft from Canada has been a significant concern of American authorities. Monitoring boats as they traverse the 3,600-kilometre-long ­maritime boundary (equal to one-seventh of the Earth’s circumference at the Equator) has been a major challenge for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and United States Coast Guard (USCG).

Evolution of Shiprider
In 2003, RCMP Chief Superintendent (now Assistant Commissioner) Mike McDonell and Brad Kieserman, Chief, Operations Law Group at USCG Headquarters in Washington, DC, decided to expand Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs) to include joint marine operations.

There are 15 IBETs coast to coast, involving five agencies: RCMP, U.S. Coast Guard, Canada Border Services Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Office of Border Patrol, and U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (US-ICE). IBETs have law enforcement responsibilities for areas at or near the shared border, and are charged with protecting Canada and the United States from potential threats of terrorism and impeding human and contraband trafficking.

In 2005, between 12-23 September, the RCMP and USCG conducted a proof-of-concept in the Windsor-Detroit area. It was deemed successful, although more training and a longer trial period were considered necessary. Consequently, from 31 January to 6 February 2006, an Integrated Marine Security Operation in support of SuperBowl XL in Detroit was carried out. The RCMP detachment at Windsor, Ontario provided 12 Mounties and 16 USCG officers came from the agency’s Ninth District, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. The Shiprider program was born.

Shiprider is an initiative of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which directed Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officials in June 2007 “to assess the threat and risk of criminal and terrorist activities on the St. Lawrence Seaway-Great Lakes systems and develop coordinated maritime law ­enforcement programs with a specific interest in interdicting smugglers/traffickers and ensuring border security.”

In July 2007, 25 officers from each ­country participated in two weeks of joint training at the USCG Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. A special curriculum developed by the RCMP, USCG and US-ICE was used and officers attended lectures and participated in practical exercises. Interacting with each other in a professional capacity allowed Canadian and American officers to compare their respective authorities, tactics, techniques and procedures and develop trust in preparation for combined operations on the water.

Upon completion of their training, RCMP members were cross-designated as U.S. customs officers and USCG officers as RCMP supernumerary constables. The officers then reported to one of two IBET locations: Blaine, Washington-Vancouver, British Columbia or Cornwall, Ontario-Massena, New York. After arriving in their operating areas and conducting area familiarization on the water, they started daily patrols on RCMP and USCG vessels.

In early August 2007, a Shiprider pilot project began from the east and west IBET bases. Over the next 52 days, teams of RCMP and USCG officers boarded 187 ­vessels and seized 214 pounds of marijuana with a street value of approximately $330,000. More than one million contraband cigarettes, six vessels and $38,000 earmarked for smuggling activities were also confiscated. Shiprider teams made six arrests and contributed to 41 arrests during 39 separate incidents.

In addition to smuggling interdiction and arrests during the summer of 2007, Shiprider teams provided maritime security for the meeting of the national leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico at Montebello, Quebec, performed search-and-rescue missions, and collected intelligence for shore-based investigators on both sides of the border.


26 May 2009 - Signing of the Shiprider agreement in Detroit by Canadian Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

In March 2008, then federal Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Rob Nicholson, spoke at the Canada-U.S. Cross-Border Crime Forum in Quebec City about the importance of ­continued cooperation with American law enforcement agencies. The proof-of-concept and pilot project were praised as successful initiatives involving both countries.

“The Shiprider pilot projects are an excellent example of our joint efforts to tackle cross-border crime,” said Minister Day. “In keeping with this theme, it gives me great pleasure to announce today that our countries will begin negotiating a framework to govern the conduct of joint cross-border maritime law enforcement operations in shared waterways along the Canada-USA border.”

“The Government of Canada has made the security of our people, and the safety of our streets and communities, a priority,” added Minister Nicholson. “Together, Canadian and U.S. efforts are helping to ensure that our shared border and waterways are closed to criminal organizations and their activities, but open for legitimate travel and trade.”

Not Entirely Smooth Sailing
After the Integrated Marine Security Operation got underway in early 2006, some of the Mounties involved in the patrols were not adequately prepared for winter marine operations and only two of them were qualified boat operators. There were equipment failures and the RCMP had no marine mechanics on-site. Notwithstanding the ­setbacks, four vessels conducted 45 patrols and officers boarded 173 pleasure craft.

In March 2008, the Council of Canadians expressed concern about the lack of public hearings and parliamentary debate on the Shiprider program.

The Ottawa-based organization insisted that the federal government explain why Canada’s previous security arrangement with the U.S. Coast Guard was inadequate and justify “this radical and unprecedented arrangement.”

Three months later, Chief Cheryl Jacobs, the District Chief on the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, complained to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that the RCMP was not consulting with the Council about Shiprider operations. The Akwesasne Reserve includes land and waterways in Ontario, Quebec and New York, and the Mohawk Council regards policing activities within the Reserve’s boundaries as part of their ­jurisdiction.

While Mohawk Police Service (MPS) members have worked with the Cornwall IBET since 2000 to combat smuggling in the area, at present there are no plans to involve MPS members in the Shiprider ­program. Chief Jacobs told the Standing Committee, “again, we are part of the solution [law enforcement on land and the waterways]. Along with everybody ­sitting here at this table, we are part of that solution.”

Shiprider Framework Agreement
On 27 May 2009, Canadian Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano signed a major Shiprider agreement, formally known as the “Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada,” in Detroit, Michigan.

The agreement aims “to provide the Parties additional means in shared waterways to prevent, detect, suppress, investigate, and prosecute criminal offences or violations of law including, but not limited to, illicit drug trade, migrant smuggling, trafficking of firearms, the smuggling of counterfeit goods and money, and terrorism.”

Shiprider operations in Canadian waters, where the laws of Canada apply, are supervised by the on-board RCMP ­officer. In American waters, the USCG officer provides direct supervision to enforce U.S. laws. Through this arrangement, the international maritime boundary as a barrier to policing has been removed and a force multiplier has been created, according to the RCMP and USCG. Shiprider teams are reportedly able to patrol the boundary waters of the two countries, using fewer vessels than if they operated separately.

Following the signing of the Framework Agreement, the USCG 9th District Commander expressed these thoughts on his USCG blog: “We have great respect for the work and professionalism of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and this agreement establishes the authority for the USCG to work together with them to enhance our ability to protect the Great Lakes.”

The Seattle, Washington-based USCG 13th District is involved with the Shiprider program on the west coast.


A Shiprider boat partols off the coast of British Columbia, near U.S. waters.

Technological Assets
Shiprider vessels are equipped with a variety of surveillance, navigation and communication equipment. GPS provides officers with precise location data and aids in navigation on the water. Marine radar allows boat captains to avoid collisions with other vessels, islands and other objects in limited visibility. Radio communication gear is ­standard on RCMP and USCG vessels.

The RCMP would not confirm for this article if any of its aviation assets such as helicopters equipped with FLIR (thermal imaging) have been used in support of Shiprider operations, but the possibility certainly exists. “Aviation assets are another tool in the law enforcement response to trans-national crime,” acknowledged the RCMP media relations member in Ottawa. FLIR equipment allows sources of heat such as people or running boat engines to be tracked in low visibility conditions such as a fog-covered waterway. Night vision ­goggles have also been used by the RCMP and USCG and may be part of the equipment on Shiprider vessels.

Shiprider is another example of the enhanced integration of Canadian and American law enforcement and counterterrorism measures since 9/11. One wonders if this concept could also be applied to simplify procedures at land ports of entry. Some Canadians disagree with this path, but the fact remains that if we want to do business with the United States, cross-border ­security concerns must be cooperatively addressed. A big step in the right direction, Shiprider is here to stay.  

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Blair Watson’s professional writing includes aviation and airport security, firefighting and navy manuals.
© FrontLine Security 2009

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