Police in Canada are cracking down on smugglers trying to ship bootleg booze into the northeast of the country.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use boats and helicopters to stop modern day rum-runners from buying liquor on a nearby French-owned island and hauling it ashore on Canadian soil without paying any duty.
“Right now we’re in Canadian waters, just right there is the waters of France,” said Bud Bennett of the RCMP as we leaned over the bow of the patrol vessel Murray.
He and his colleagues are trying to stop criminals bringing booze in from the tiny French territory of St-Pierre -Miquelon only 25 kilometres away.
It’s a huge task. The crew is responsible for 28,000 kilometres of coastline, while the smugglers can choose from more than a 100 kilometres of beaches and coves into which they can bring their bounty.
This part of the world has a long history of smuggling stretching back to the time of the 1920s gangster Al Capone, whose hat is on display at the Hotel Robert in St-Pierre-Miquelon. He had a very small head by the way!
There were so many whiskey crates at the height of the smuggling boom that locals used them to build houses … the last one standing is known as the Cutty Sark Villa.
Eugene, 90, can still remember St Pierre thriving when the Mafia were coming from New York to buy French booze and ship it back to the US.
I met him on the quayside. He told me: “The fishermen were so poor they make some more money working on the bootlegging because bootlegging in St-Pierre was something normal.”
While in St-Pierre – Smugglers commit no crime – even today – they buy booze quite legally in accordance with French law.
But from Canada’s perspective, the smuggling could escalate into something more serious.
Bud Bennett from the RCMP said: “Today it could be booze, tomorrow it could be a bomb, the next day it could be a person. All of those have national security implications to us.”
On the mainland the RCMP showed us captured booze waiting at police headquarters to be used in court against the smugglers.
There were a lot of bottles, mostly plastic – whiskey, vodka, pure grain alcohol used for making hooch – in green net bags held in the strong-room below stairs.
Evidence the RCMP is determined not to give up the hunt for bootleggers.