In what is being called a black eye for the Canadian army, a member of its reserves is under arrest in Seattle after a miniconvoy of military vehicles heading to the United States was found to contain nearly 110 kilograms (240 pounds) of high-priced B.C. pot.
"It definitely does not look good," said Captain Robert Lanouette of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal office in Ottawa.
"This is the first of its kind I've heard of in my 19 years in the military police. It's unfortunate to have an apparent breach of trust on the part of a reservist member."
Sergeant Sten Strom, 37, of the 12 Service Battalion in suburban Richmond, B.C., was among five Canadians and two U.S. citizens picked up on the weekend. They appeared in a Seattle courtroom yesterday charged with conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana.
Their unauthorized military expedition, allegedly on its way to an underground garage in Seattle, didn't get any farther than the heavily travelled border crossing at Blaine, Wash.
A search of the vehicles found five duffel bags stuffed with 240 pounds of high-quality marijuana, U.S. authorities said. They put the wholesale value of the potent "B.C. bud" at more than $1.2-million (U.S.).
Sgt. Strom and an alleged accomplice were travelling in two khaki, military-pattern vehicles -- a large tow truck and a smaller truck, slightly larger than a pickup. Both bore Canadian military licence plates. But U.S. Customs officials didn't buy their story that they were going to bring back another Canadian military vehicle that had broken down in nearby Ferndale.
Agents apparently became suspicious of the vehicles because there had been no official preclearance of their entry into the United States.
"Typically we get notified when foreign countries are planning to send in some military equipment or vehicles," a source said.
He said the case was highly unusual because of the alleged use of identifiable military transport.
"These people [appeared to be trying]to use the appearance of the military to smuggle in a shipment of marijuana. That's what makes this case so different, not so much the amount of marijuana."
Capt. Lanouette said the Canadian armed forces has launched its own investigation into the incident, focusing on how the military vehicles could have been driven away from the locked and secure base of the service battalion.
He said Sgt. Strom could also face military discipline in Canada for allegedly violating the National Defence Act.
After seizing the marijuana and impounding the pair of Canadian army trucks, U.S. Customs and drug-enforcement officers then took advantage of a bizarre stroke of luck to round up five more individuals said to have been part of the scheme.
First, they drove the marijuana to the initial proposed rendezvous at a Blaine shopping mall. A Canadian in a waiting minivan was arrested.
Then, a cell phone that the agents had recovered began ringing. The caller wondered where the pot was. He ordered it to be taken to an underground parking garage. The officers complied and arrested four more suspects on the spot.