Federal officials will review the arrest of a 66-year-old Minnesota woman who was held at the Remand Centre for 12 days on suspicion of smuggling heroin into Manitoba.
Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews said this afternoon that he has requested a report from the president of the Canada Border Services Agency into the arrest in April of Janet Goodin.
As first reported in today's Winnipeg Free Press, Goodin, a 66-year-old widow and grandmother, said her life was turned upside down this past April after she was arrested at the border after a jar of motor oil in her vehicle was mistaken for heroin.
She was strip-searched by border guards, then turned over to RCMP, who charged her with three trafficking-related offences. Goodin spent 12 days in jail before a more thorough analysis by the RCMP revealed the jar did not contain heroin. The charges were eventually dropped.
"Whether there were any errors or changes that need to be made, I'll have to wait until I receive a full report," Toews said.
Toews would not comment on whether the Canadian government would issue an apology to Goodin.
"Whatever actions are appropriate, either CSBA or the government will take," he said.
Goodin said she was heading from her home in Warroad, Minn., to Sprague, Man., to play bingo on April 20 when Canadian border guards at the Sprague port of entry started searching her van and, in a cubby, found a canning jar containing brownish liquid. Sprague is about 30 kilometres northwest of Warroad, which is about 200 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
Goodin, who retired after working as an administrative assistant for organizations like Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., said she was shocked after the jar of what she thought was motor oil tested positive for drugs. She said she was handcuffed, interrogated and jailed.
"It was so surreal and so out of context that I just couldn't believe what was happening," she said.
"I have never been so humiliated in my life."
Goodin was subsequently charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, trafficking and importing a controlled substance. She said the ordeal got worse after she was denied bail and shipped from the Steinbach RCMP detachment to the Winnipeg Remand Centre, where she stayed until a test came back indicating the substance was not an illegal drug.
Her ordeal included strip searches at the border and at the remand centre.
"That means you have to take all of your clothes off one at a time, and they look through all your clothes. You have to stand up against the wall and spread your legs, naked," she said.
"I usually wear a small incontinence pad and they took that away too, to pull it apart."
The mother of six has three grown children in Canada. She said that during dozens of prior visits, she'd had no problems with the jar, which had been put in the vehicle after a tune-up by her son-in-law.
Her only prior run-ins with the law were traffic tickets and a bounced cheque she wrote while living in Florida about a decade ago. The Oldsmobile van she was driving, which is registered in Minnesota, belongs to her daughter.
"We don't have anything to do with drugs," she said.
Lisa White, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement "all persons, goods and conveyances entering Canada may be subject to a more in-depth examination."
White said she could provide no specific details about the case due to privacy concerns.
"CBSA officers are trained to look for clues or multiple indicators before referring someone for secondary inspection. CBSA officers consider many factors, including previous infractions, countries visited, nervousness, etc., in assessing who or what might be a risk. When CBSA officers suspect a possible presence of narcotics, a field test will be conducted. These may include narcotic identification tests, spray tests and detector dogs.
"If field tests return a positive result, officers then have probable grounds to suspect the substance is a narcotic. The material will be seized and the person will be arrested and turned over to the RCMP," the statement said.
CBSA official Carl Jarvin, the acting manager of programs for the Prairie region, said the test conducted by the border guards has proven infallible in the past, adding he couldn't explain why there was a false positive in Goodin's case.
RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said in an email the arrest on April 21 by the Sprague detachment was "based on information gathered and provided by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers."
Karpish said the exhibit was sent for testing to the Health Canada Laboratory, "with a rush on it." Once the test showed on May 3 the exhibit wasn't a controlled substance, charges were stayed and Goodin was released from custody.
Court documents indicate she was charged with trafficking, possessing and importing heroin (diacetylmorphine), though Karpish didn't say Monday what the test ultimately showed the substance to be.
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"We acted in good faith," said Karpish, who said the material "wasn't a controlled substance as we were led to believe."
Scott Newman, Goodin's Winnipeg-based lawyer, said he alerted other defence lawyers to what had happened.
He's concerned about drug tests he said can show "false positives," adding that to this day, he doesn't know the cause of the error.
"All we had was the simple assertion that Canada Border Services says there was a positive test for heroin," he said.
He said he was particularly disturbed someone could be incarcerated "for a lengthy period of time based on a test of dubious reliability."
Aldo Santin Reporter
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Journal excerpts from an alleged 66-year-old heroin trafficker
Before the arrest
"I stood on the curb and watched as they unloaded everything from the van. I kept looking at the time on my cellphone, hoping they would hurry so I would not be late meeting my daughters. As I stood and watched, they pulled out a small canning jar of what I assumed to be motor oil left over from an oil change. They asked me what it was and handed the jar to me. I replied that I supposed it was engine oil, and I tried to remove the lid so that I could show them. The seal was too tight and I could not open it, so I handed it back. One of the men searching the van then handed it to one of the female border workers that had come out of the building. I thought probably they were going to dump it out or just confiscate it because the jar was not labelled."
Motor oil or heroin?
"One of the female agents said that they tested the 'substance' in the canning jar and it tested positive for something. I understood her to say that the oil in the jar tested positive for some substance which indicated the presence of HEROIN!
Thus, my nightmare began.
The border agent informed me that I was going to be arrested... I asked if I could call my daughter and let her know what was happening, and they refused to let me call her. They handcuffed me, and the rest of the night is a nightmarish blur of being interrogated several times by different people, the utter humiliation of a strip search, and long periods of sitting alone in that little room."
"The days have all been pretty much running together. During the day, we are to have every other hour out in the common area, unless it is mealtime or medication time, or there is some other reason to cut the hour short. Mealtime consists of picking up a covered tray and eating in the cells. There is a lot of food, and some of the women say they have gained weight while there. There is very little exercise; occasionally one tier or the other will be allowed to go to the gym for recreation. There is a stationary bike, several exercise machines and a ping-pong table in the gym.
"I have not been able to properly clean my dentures since I got here. I have asked several times for cleaner; I was told to ask the nurse. I asked the nurse, and she said they don't provide that, and it is not available through the canteen either. They finally wrote up a form to leave at the main office giving me permission to have my daughter bring some for me. The girl that came in yesterday is going home today, along with one of the other girls. I wonder if and when I will ever get to be with my family again."