CANU lobbies for more money to upgrade equipment at airports
Although ranks of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) are legally mandated to stop and search outgoing passengers at Guyana’s main airports, the agency is hoping to use more modern equipment to do so instead of making physical contact. In the last budget, the Unit was awarded $349 million.
However, according to a source close to the drug enforcement unit, there are some genuine cases where persons have been stopped and searched due to suspicious behaviour, but taking into consideration the humanitarian aspect of executing such duties, it is believed that additional equipment at the ports of entry will minimise this.
“We are humans and we are dealing with humans so to avoid the negativities of executing our duties then the use of more technology, more equipment to do scans at the airports would be ideal. In fact, CANU is supposed to be pursuing this recommendation to the Government quite soon. Also, we are hoping that we are given the go-ahead to have a physician join the team,” the source stated.
In other countries, physical searches are still conducted and to various extremities based on reasonable suspicion, but the use of modernised technology to conduct such searches has been proven to be more ideal in ensuring that the rights of persons are not violated.
As it is, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), located at Timehri, East Bank Demerara, and the Eugene F Correia International Airport at Ogle, East Coast Demerara, are allegedly not properly equipped with such technology.
This is according to a senior police source attached to the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF’s) Narcotics Branch.
He told this publication that it does not reflect a good image internationally for the country and law enforcement officials when outgoing passengers are nabbed in other countries after passing through the tight security at the two main airports.
“Through the physical searches we conduct, we have been able to thwart a number of persons over the years who attempted to smuggle things and illegal drugs, outside of Guyana. However, the airports need more equipment so that they can help us to minimise the hassle and delays that some outgoing passengers may be exposed to due to them having to be searched. Yes, there may have been some cases where physical searches led to no arrests but had to be carried out due to reasonable suspicion but more equipment would do no harm,” he noted.
Quite recently, there has been an uproar on social media, and even in the news about what they deem “a violation of rights” for the extreme searches being conducted on passengers by agents of the CANU and the Police Narcotics Branch.
However, Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin explained that the two agencies have the right to search someone if they had, what the laws of Guyana recognise as “reasonable suspicion” that the person was committing, about to commit or had just committed an offence.
He stated that these rules are intended to rely on the integrity of law enforcement officials which means that they must exercise proper judgement as to what is reasonable suspicion.
“So, reasonable suspicion can’t be that you’re acting on you know, very nebulous facts, it has to be that you are acting on specific facts. Now, as it relates to the search, as it relates to the very intrusive cavity search that was apparently required [recently], that is in itself an area of law for which there is much controversy because the suspicion would then have to relate that the person is concealing the narcotics in their body…Could she have refused the search? Not really, in most cases that arise, if the police have reasonable suspicion and they ask you to search you could say no but you really don’t have a right to stop it.”