Correctional officers have found a pigeon wearing a mini backpack seemingly designed to smuggle drugs into a B.C. prison — again.
The discovery of what appeared to be a pigeon-in-training came Feb. 27, 2023, at the medium-security Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., while officers conducted routine contraband searches, said John Randle, Pacific regional president of the Union for Canadian Correctional Officers.
It came two months after another pigeon was found in a neighbouring prison with its tiny methamphetamine-filled backpack.
"It's mind-blowing, to be honest, but not surprising," said Randle. "Every time officers step up their game and sort of start making gains on contraband introduction, the inmates think of the next way to do it."
The union representative said he's been researching what goes into training a homing pigeon since their use was first discovered late last year. Randle says he suspects inmates are making comfortable spaces for the pigeons and giving them water and food for six to eight weeks. Then the winged drug mules get sent out on a mission to retrieve contraband outside the prison walls, he suspects.
Randle said training pigeons to carry drugs into prisons was "moderately impressive" and a growing challenge for corrections officers. He also worries that places like the Matsqui Institution, which is near residential areas, could see an errant pigeon land in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"What if this pigeon, or even a drone or anything else, chose to land somewhere that it shouldn't have with something like methamphetamine in its little backpack? Who gets their hands on it?" Randle said.
He also worries finding one or two winged messengers-in-training will not solve the problem.
"For places like Matsqui Institution, you know, they have these giant outdoor sports fields that probably have hundreds or thousands of pigeons in them on some days," he said.
A growing aerial threat
Training pigeons as aerial drug mules is only the latest strategy inmates and their accomplices on the outside have deployed to smuggle contraband inside the prison walls. Randle says drones have increasingly been deployed to smuggle everything from cellphones and weapons to drugs.
"Drone drops are happening on a regular basis. And, so now to add this into it, it's just a whole other level of needing to be vigilant and diligent in what we're doing," said Randle.
A spokesperson for the Corrections Service of Canada (CSC) said it was not investigating any incident related to carrier pigeons at the Matsqui Institution.
"CSC has a robust preventive security and intelligence capacity aimed at monitoring and investigating inmate activity, potential drug-smuggling attempts, and seizure of illicit substances," said the spokesperson.
The CSC spokesperson said they use several tools to prevent the flow of drugs into our institutions, including searching offenders, visitors, buildings, and cells with everything from ion scanners to detector dogs.
The federal corrections service isn't the only authority paying attention. When a meth-filled backpack was found in a pigeon's backpack at the Fraser Valley's Pacific Institution on Dec. 29, 2022, the facility called on the local RCMP detachment to investigate, says Randle, who works there as a corrections officer.
This time, Randle said the Abbotsford Police Department was immediately informed of the discovery.
"We are investigating an incident that did occur on Feb. 27 at the Matsqui Institution. And yes, it involves the pigeon," said the department Const. Art Stele.
Const. Stele said he couldn't provide more details because it might compromise the investigation.
Randle said police investigations aren't going to stop what's becoming a growing problem. He says the Correctional Service of Canada needs to start taking the introduction of contraband more seriously.
"It's a curveball for us," said Randle. "So whether it's drones or pigeons, we have to figure out a way to stop these things come from coming from the sky."
"It's kind of comical to say, but it's aerial attacks on institutions."