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U.S. Kayaker Faces Drug Charges

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There never were any jet skiers zipping through the cold night in waters
near Victoria, but one marijuana-stuffed kayak has turned into two. A
young California man also faces criminal charges as police hunt for a
second paddling smuggler.

The case has also become a cross-border drug and immigration
investigation, involving the RCMP "border integrity unit" and the U.S.
Coast Guard "drug interdiction team." Meanwhile, Canada holds the bill for
an intensive but unnecessary air and marine search.

What police believe now was a failed drug-smuggling attempt started as a
conventional search and rescue Tuesday morning when a man turned up on a
suburban Saanich beach, in the exclusive Ten Mile Point area.

He told a resident that he'd fallen off his Jet Ski in the night after
attempting a 35-kilometre ride from Sidney to Victoria in the dark, with
another man who was still missing.

His account fell apart under questioning later in the day, when police
found his U.S. passport in a kayak "stuffed to the gunwales with
marijuana." That kayak was found grounded on rocks nearby. It also had a
battery-powered outboard motor.

The 26-year-old from Novato, Calif., near San Francisco, admitted the
kayak was his, Saanich police Const. Chris Horsley said Wednesday.

"The first kayaker came clean and admitted there was a second kayaker."

He's being held for 48 hours on a Canada Immigration warrant, with the
clock starting Tuesday night. Investigating officers planned to discuss
with Crown counsel charges of possession of marijuana for trafficking,
Horsley said.

The unusual story took another twist when a resident of another ritzy
waterfront enclave, Gordon Point Estates, called police after seeing the
TV news to tell them of a second beached kayaker who came ashore about the
same time as the one initially reported. However this kayaker landed about
six kilometres north of the other one.

He came into resident's home, warmed up over coffee and borrowed the
telephone to call friends to be picked up. The homeowner and other
neighbours watched later as two, possibly more, individuals pulled bags
out of the kayak and hauled them and the boat away in a vehicle.

Police believe the one that got away was another marijuana smuggler. They
went door to door in the neighbourhood asking residents who may have seen
the group, the kayak or their vehicle to call with details.

The cargo of the first kayak was 22 kilograms of what police said was
top-quality hydroponically-grown B.C. marijuana, destined for the U.S.
market. It had a street value of $2,500 per bag, Horsley said, for a total
of $120,000. "It was probably grown right here in Saanich," he said.

Steve Church at the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria couldn't
estimate the cost of the search. "It would be quite a bit," he said.

A Buffalo aircraft from Comox flew for five hours, a U.S. Coast Guard
helicopter from Port Angeles, Wash. was up for half an hour over the
search zone and five search vessels were on the water after the initial
reports.

One of the coast guard auxiliary vessels, a rigid hull inflatable from Oak
Bay, found part of the marijuana haul, 15 half-kilogram plastic-wrapped
portions inside a backpack-sized "dry bag" used in kayaking. It was
probably lashed to the deck of one kayak with bungee cords.

Ironically, even though the kayakers, made it to shore they actually may
have encountered problems. "It is likely they got into some trouble,"
Horsley said. The first kayak was full of water when found and it had
probably turned over at one point.

They were out on the water in a south-flowing ebb tide. "The tides can be
very strong out there," Horsley said.

San Juan Island in Washington state is visible not far away on the east
side of Haro Strait, the kayakers' probable destination. Rumrunners
ferried alcohol in these same waters to the U.S. side during the 1920s
prohibition era.



Title: U.S. Kayaker Faces Drug Charges
Author: Norman Gidney
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist
Contact: letters@times-colonist.com
Website: http://vvv.com/home/timesc/
Pubdate: Thursday, November 6, 2003