New Brunswick

2 men arrested after incident at border between Woodstock and Houlton, Maine

Two men from Nova Scotia were arrested Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials after an incident that kept the border crossing between Woodstock, N.B., and Houlton, Maine, closed for much of the day, say RCMP.

RCMP say 'suspicious vehicle' incident resolved with arrests by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

An eyewitness saw an older-model car stopped in the westbound lane, facing the U.S. It did not appear to have a licence plate on the back, he said. (John Slipp)

Two men from Nova Scotia were arrested Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials after an incident that kept the border crossing between Woodstock, N.B., and Houlton, Maine, closed for much of the day, snarling traffic, say RCMP.

Police responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle that had stopped in the area between the Canada and U.S. border crossings around 10:15 a.m., said Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh.

"Two men inside the vehicle were refusing to communicate with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials or police," said Rogers-Marsh.

At around 4:20 p.m., the vehicle proceeded toward the U.S. port of entry, she said.

A 21-year-old man from Halifax and a 22-year-old man from Middle Sackville, N.S., were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the vehicle was seized.

U.S Border Patrol says the suspects could be charged in both countries.

"I commend the coordinated work of our CBP officers, U.S. Border Patrol agents, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Border Services Agency and Maine State Police which was essential to resolving this incident safely and securely," Houlton Port Director Christopher M. Doughty said in a statement.  

Traffic on both sides of the border was disrupted during the incident and the crossing remained closed until 10 p.m. 

John Slipp, operator at the Woodstock Duty-Free Store and Atlantic Travel Centre, shares his experience of the border incident that occurred this Friday morning. 0:58

John Slipp, who owns the Atlantic Travel Centre, a duty-free shop about 250 metres from the border on Route 95, said customers alerted him to the situation shortly after 10 a.m.

They told him traffic had been stopped and asked if he knew what was going on.

"So I went out to investigate," he said.

Slipp saw an older-model car stopped in the westbound lane, facing the U.S. It did not appear to have a licence plate on the back, he said.

A Canada Border Services Agency officer told him they were dealing with a "security situation," and that U.S. customs officials had called and told them to close the border and secure the area.

"That's all they knew at the time," said Slipp.

Slipp said he later spoke to some people who had witnessed "some of the activity" and reported seeing a swarm of police cars.

They indicated there was an older car, possibly green, stopped in the middle of the road. U.S. customs officers approached it and asked the occupants to roll down the windows and exit the vehicle.

"They would not," said Slipp.

"As a result the border was closed, extra security arrived and they asked us to evacuate our building around noon."

An RCMP armoured vehicle heads toward the Woodstock-Houlton border crossing Friday afternoon. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The Canada Border Services Agency sent out an alert on Twitter shortly before 1 p.m., saying it was experiencing a "service disruption" at the crossing near Woodstock, on the Canadian side.

Motorists were being urged to take an alternative route to the U.S.

A Woodstock police car and flashing arrow board on Route 95 alerted motorists to the closure while highway crews set up detour signs.

An armoured RCMP vehicle and other police vehicles were observed heading to the scene.

Highway crews put up detour signs, directing traffic to St. Stephen. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Traffic was backed up "for several kilometres" when the incident started, said Slipp.

Many of the vehicles were transport trucks. It's a "major truck crossing," he said.

One unhappy motorist told CBC News the detour was going to add hours to his drive.

Alternative routes would include Centreville on Route 110, about 40 kilometres north of Woodstock, and St. Stephen, about 165 kilometres south of Woodstock.

New Brunswick RCMP responded to the 'suspicious vehicle' at the Woodstock-Houlton border and urged motorists to take an alternative route. (John Slipp)

Slipp said he doesn't know when he will be able to return to work at the shop but noted Fridays are one of the busiest days of the week.

"We're outside of the tourist season now, not quite into the Christmas shopping season, but certainly Fridays are a busier day and we are missing the business today."

Residents in the area said traffic heading to the U.S. border was being diverted. (John Slipp/Submitted)

This is only the third border-related incident Slipp has faced in the nearly 29 years he has worked at the duty-free shop.

The most recent one was about four or five years ago, when a man shot some people in Bangor and officials believed the suspect might try to cross the border, he said. The other was in 2001 during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

With files from Catherine Harrop