WHITEHORSE - While RVers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts pour across the Yukon-Alaska border this summer, a special unit of Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be searching among them for drug dealers, gun smugglers and border runners.
In August, the Yukon was assigned an Integrated Border Enforcement Team, one of 19 created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. After the attacks, the Canadian federal government put more than a half-billion dollars into the RCMP to improve national security.
After a winter of recruiting and training officers, the unit is looking to its first summer in action.
The biggest issues at the Yukon-Alaska border are drug and firearms smuggling, said Cpl. Charmaine Bulger, who heads up the unit in the Yukon.
Relatively inexpensive in the U.S., guns are brought into Canada where they're sold for considerably more. Going the other way are Canadian drugs, particularly marijuana from British Columbia, which sells well in the United States.
In addition to the increased focus on border security, the team is learning how to work with other law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. The groups have shared information before, but now it's happening on a weekly and even daily basis, Bulger said.
Mounties and U.S. agencies such as the Alaska State Troopers will work together on investigations, and will meet occasionally to compare notes. Enforcement team members also will work with Canadian and American immigration and customs officers, the U.S. Border Patrol and city police departments in Alaska.
"It's really enhanced the investigations and sped them up to some degree," said Bulger. "There's always been a good rapport with each other. Now it's a daily business."
Dog handler Wayne Smith and his partner Luke, a yellow Labrador retriever, will be at a border point or the Whitehorse Airport virtually every week. When they're not working, the duo will be training.
While they're still waiting for radio equipment that will let the enforcement team communicate with their U.S. and Canadian border counterparts, the Skagway Police Department already has several of the RCMP's frequencies, said Bulger. When they're at or between the border checkpoints, the two sides can already talk to each other.
Yukon RCMP staffers have always had a federal enforcement officer who looks after customs and immigration issues, along with a host of other jobs.
But that job is very much "inland," said Bulger, and traditionally that officer's borders go up to the customs booths.
Her unit's territory, on the other hand, is essentially the no-man's land between the border checkpoints.