CANADIAN border officers have greater powers than police to search people and their property.

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This article was published 25/7/2011 (3619 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CANADIAN border officers have greater powers than police to search people and their property.

"Although some have called it a charter-free zone, which means that you don't really get your charter rights there, that's not necessarily true. It's just that the standards are a lot lower than the police have to meet in order to have grounds to search," says Josh Weinstein, a Winnipeg criminal lawyer. Another case where authorities have greater search powers is in a jail.

Border officers determine whether to conduct a "secondary search" by considering factors such as whether a person has a criminal record and whether the suspect is nervous, says Loretta Nyhus, a Canadian Border Services Agency communications officer.

When officers suspect narcotics might be present, they conduct a field test, which can be a NIK test, which uses the change in colour of a chemical to determine if an illegal drug is present, a spray test or detector dogs. If the field test is positive, officers then have "probable grounds to suspect the substance is a narcotic," Nyhus said in an email.

Suspected drugs and any other illegal goods will be seized, and the person will be turned over to the RCMP, the "prosecuting agency," Nyhus said.

If charged, the individual, regardless of nationality, has all the rights of anyone charged under the Criminal Code, including the right to contact a lawyer.

People who are not Canadian citizens, however, can also be detained at the border on immigration grounds.

If the detainment is less than 48 hours, the person suspected of being an illegal immigrant does not have the right to contact a laywer but doesn't have to provide a statement, either, says Kenneth Zaifman, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.

After 48 hours, the person has the right to a lawyer, but border officials must then write a report and the person must appear before an immigration judge.

william.burr@freepress.mb.ca