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You often hear about smuggling between Canada and the United States

Dear Urban Decoder: You often hear about smuggling between Canada and the United States taking place in and around remote border areas. What about just piloting a boat across Lake Ontario from Toronto to New York State (or vice versa)? Ever happen?—Liza Black, Oakwood

Unless you happen to be standing atop the CN Tower on a clear day, it’s easy to forget that there’s another country just beyond the murky waters of Lake Ontario. But smugglers have been plying the lake since Prohibition. The straight run from Toronto to Youngstown, New York—about 50 kilometres—takes a couple of hours in a small cabin cruiser. Drugs, booze and smokes are the most common cargo, accounting for several arrests a year on both sides of the lake. Police say they’ve had regular reports of human trafficking of illegal immigrants (into both countries), though they’ve yet to nab anyone in the act. Lake Ontario law enforcement has traditionally been lax: even in recent years, only about 10 per cent of Canadian boaters bothered reporting to U.S. Customs when visiting the southern shore. Since 9/11, police departments, Customs, the RCMP and their American counterparts have instituted a tight new security regime, with information sharing and boat patrols. There’s even a (largely classified) program of aerial reconnaissance. The crew can call in the cavalry (police boats, that is) whenever they spot something fishy—besides the lake itself, of course.

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