Canadian officials are considering diplomatic action after four American police cruisers chased a stolen pickup through a border station in Niagara Falls and continued their pursuit into the busy tourist town before the truck struck and killed a female bystander.
The U.S. officers involved, members of the force in neighbouring Niagara Falls, N.Y., could be charged as a result of the incident, which occurred just after dark on Wednesday, sources said late yesterday.
Constable Richard Geady of the Niagara Region Police said that if charges are laid in Canada, they "would be a violation of our general orders to continue on."
Friends say it was Laurie Bishop, a 40-year-old mother of two daughters, who was rammed by the fleeing vehicle as she stepped out of a parked car.
The truck kept on going, leaving Ms. Bishop dying in a pool of blood, then collided with a snowbank and a parking meter before coming to a stop.
The driver, who was brandishing a gun, jumped out and fled on foot. He was eventually wrestled to the ground by a constable from the Niagara Region force, but not before taking a shot in the officer's direction.
U.S. police are not permitted to chase suspects into Canada, said Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
"Both sides fully recognize the importance of respecting each other's authority and national sovereignty," Mr. Doiron said.
"The government is not taking this incident lightly. We will be carefully reviewing all the facts before determining an appropriate course of action."
Officials from various sources said a diplomatic representation regarding the violation of sovereignty could be made as early as today.
One customs official, who asked not to be identified, said the American police did not radio ahead as is the protocol in cross-border chases, and customs agents were in shock when the truck and four cruisers zoomed through the crossing.
The truck, which had been stolen minutes earlier from a telephone repairman in Niagara Falls, N.Y., crashed through the barrier arm that was closed over the bus lane of the inspection station with two police cars in pursuit. Two other cruisers drove through regular inspection lanes, which were open at the time. One of them stopped as it arrived in Canadian territory; the others roared half a kilometre up the road before rounding a corner and vanishing from the sight of the customs guards.
Constable Geady said the American officers were told to stop a short time later and did so, then returned to the border.
Police Lieutenant Robert Rosati of Niagara Falls, N.Y., said his force would make no comment about the incident until this afternoon, but officials of the two forces apparently met in a closed-door meeting yesterday.
The issue for customs agents "is that any one of us could have got struck by the vehicle or God knows what could have happened. And then the issue extends to obvious disregard for Canadian sovereignty," said Ron Moran, the national president of the Customs and Excise Union.
"The number of jurisdictional infractions that would have been committed by the police officers would be countless. All you have to do is try to imagine if Canadian officers had done this on the U.S. side. The whole border would have been shut down across the country."
Cornelius Cross, 38, a U.S. resident, has been charged with impaired driving causing the death of Ms. Bishop and attempted murder in relation to the shot fired at the police officer.
Ms. Bishop, a former resident of New Jersey, returned to Niagara Falls with her husband and daughters a couple of years ago to be near her mother. She worked at the deli counter in a grocery store.
"She was a wonderful, wonderful girl," said Sue Korz, one of her co-workers.
The incident that claimed her life began on Wednesday afternoon when a woman walked into a police station in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., and said she had been held hostage by her boyfriend for several days after he pulled a gun on her during an argument.
According to police, the boyfriend then hijacked a car, forcing the driver into the trunk, and drove to Niagara Falls, N.Y., where he developed a flat tire.
Leaving the man in the trunk, he fled the scene and came across a telephone worker who was up a pole doing repairs. The worker was forced off the pole at gunpoint and his truck was stolen.
Police from Niagara Falls, N.Y., chased it and continued their pursuit into Canada.