Day 6

In wake of legal cannabis, U.S. officials opening Canadian mail directed to N.B.'s Campobello Island

Mail sent to Campobello Island, N.B., from other parts of Canada has to pass through the United States first, where it is now frequently being opened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

'You should have an expectation of privacy with the mail,' says resident Steve Hatch

The International Bridge connects Lubec, Maine, with Campobello Island, N.B. Residents of the idyllic fishing and tourism spot say U.S. border officials have been searching mail deliveries from Canada Post since September. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Residents of Campobello Island, N.B., a picturesque fishing and tourist destination near Maine, say they're worried about how frequently U.S. border officials are searching their domestic parcels delivered by Canada Post.

Since September, nearly "every package that's bound for Campobello is being opened" by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, according to resident Justin Tinker. The packages arrive wrapped in green tape, which indicates they were unsealed.

It's not the first time this has happened. Cross-border mail was regularly searched after the Sept. 11 attacks, but "the concern this time around is that it's been relatively unprompted and it's become systemic," Tinker told Day 6.

Domestic mail meant for residents on the island of nearly 900 is delivered by Canada Post via truck — the only safe option for delivery outside of ferry service that runs seasonally — but has to travel through Maine where a bridge connects Campobello to the U.S. mainland.

U.S. officials have the right to search mail that crosses borders. In a statement to CBC Radio, the federal agency said they "possess broad search authority to ensure the safety and admissibility of all goods entering the United States."

"In my case, it was an Amazon package containing a hat and a glass protector for a phone. Nothing that's going to run afoul of whatever U.S. applicable law," Tinker recalled.

Canada Post confirmed to Day 6 in an email statement that it is working with U.S. border officials to reduce delays.

Cannabis deliveries halted

Some residents chalk up the surge in searches to cannabis legalization in this country.

"But they [border officials] don't say that," said Steve Hatch, who has launched a formal complaint with Canada Post. "All they say is, 'We have the right to do it.'"

As a result of the increased searches, Cannabis NB, the agency that oversees in-store and online cannabis sales in the province, says it has stopped sending marijuana products to Campobello.

Cannabis NB spokesperson Marie-Andrée Bolduc told Day 6 by email that it's "actively looking for solutions to resume service as quickly as possible to Campobello Island."

In the meantime, Hatch worries about how the delivery of cannabis products to residents of Campobello Island could affect them legally, particularly when it comes to cross-border travel.

Canada Post says that delivery by road, via Maine, is the only 'safe option' for getting the mail to Campobello Island. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Ferry service to New Brunswick is only available during the summer months, leaving the only entry and exit point through Lubec, Maine.

"If you cannot enter the U.S. from this island, your options are a boat or stay put," Hatch said.

Tinker says it could turn the island into an Alcatraz, referring to the remote prison off the California coast.

Not just cannabis

According to the residents, it's not just packages from online retailers that are getting opened up. Pharmacy shipments to the island, and even inter-library loans from New Brunswick, are being searched.

Canada Post acknowledges that there are challenges with delivering mail through the U.S. but says conversations with U.S. border officials have been productive.

"We believe we've resolved some of their concerns and hope to see fewer delays in the coming weeks," Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton said in the statement.

Steve Hatch has filed a formal complaint about U.S. Customs and Border Protection's searches of domestic mail parcels with Canada Post. (Submitted by Steve Hatch)

But with many fishing boats travelling between the island and New Brunswick, Hatch says he would like the postal service to reconsider delivery by boat.

As a dual citizen to the U.S. and Canada, Hatch hopes to see the situation resolved soon.

"I don't like American bullying. This kind of stuff bothers me," he told Day 6. 

"You should have an expectation of privacy with the mail and we don't here on the island."

To hear more from Steve Hatch and Justin Tinker, download our podcast or click Listen above.