Prison staff intercept three drone drops this month

Collins Bay Institution in Kingston has been a frequent place for contraband to be dropped by drones over the past five years. In October, three separate drone drops of contraband have been intercepted by Correctional Service Canada staff. (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard) SUBMITTED PHOTO / SUBMITTED PHOTO

Collins Bay Institution staff have intercepted three separate drone drops on the property containing contraband this month.

The last drop occurred on Oct. 12. Staff seized packages containing cellphones and cellphone paraphernalia, 167.6 grams of tobacco, 628.3 grams of marijuana. The total estimated institutional value of the seizure was $66,730.

They also intercepted contraband drops on Oct. 3 and 10.

On Oct. 3, two packages containing 457.4 grams of tobacco and 11 grams of crystal methamphetamine, with a total estimated institutional value of $14,650, were seized.

A week later, staff seized a package containing 499.9 grams of crystal methamphetamine with estimated institutional value of $174,965.

The packages were seized through the combined vigilance of staff and information shared with the institution, a news release from Correctional Service Canada said.

In mid-September, Ontario Provincial Police and CSC teamed up to produce a public service announcement on social media asking for the public’s help to combat the use of drones that drop contraband inside area institutions.

The tweet put out on the OPP East Twitter page showed a video of OPP Joint Forces Penitentiary Squad acting sergeant Joel Blacklock speaking about local drone activity.

“The airspace within a one-mile range of an institution is designated as restricted air space,” he said. “No aircraft, including drones, can be operated in the vicinity of a federal institution.”

In the public service announcement, Blacklock advised people who live near all active area institutions – Collins Bay, Joyceville, Millhaven and Bath institutions – to be vigilant if they see drone operators, abandoned drones or suspicious packages in the area.

Pamphlets about the drones were also distributed to homes and businesses near Collins Bay and in the villages of Bath and Millhaven adjacent to those institutions.

“I believe CSC is doing everything possible to combat this new technology,” Jeff Reitzel, owner and founder of SkEye Stream, an area drone service, said in a message exchange on Thursday.

Reitzel’s company produces scenic vistas of the Kingston area, including views from the sky of the construction of the new bridge over the Cataraqui River and the new railway overpass on John Counter Boulevard. SkEye Stream also produced video at Springer Market Square during the televising of The Tragically Hip concert in August 2016.

“Drones now are developed with such a long flight range (most around seven to eight kilometres) that it makes it tough to locate where a person could be taking off from,” he said.

CSC announced in June that it will spend $6 million to install radar-based drone-detection equipment at six of its facilities as part of a pilot project. Collins Bay will be one of the institutions in the pilot project.

“As a commercial drone operator, I’m not allowed to operate within prison airspace, which is a two-kilometre flight radius,” Reitzel said. “If I want to fly in that airspace, I have to get approval from Transport Canada, then get approval from CSC, and they may or may not want to monitor the flight at their discretion.”

If apprehended, illegal drone operators could be charged with dangerous operation of an aircraft, which carries a jail term of up to five years, as well as drug-trafficking charges, which carry a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.

The public service video also advised people to call the Kingston Police at 613-549-4660 if drone activity is noticed around Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions and to call the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 in the Bath and Millhaven area.

CSC has set up a toll-free number, 1-866-780-3784, for anonymous callers to share information of any contraband entering its institutions.