What happens if you swab positive for a drug sample at Canadian airports even if you don’t have anything on you?

  • I’m a mom of one and don’t use or associate with any drug stuff. I recently bought a backpack off a buy and sell and after I got it home I noticed it smelled like cigarettes. So I went through all the pockets and found a small bag of what appeared to look like a small amount of residue of hard drugs. I called the police and they came and picked it up from me to dispose of it. But I couldn’t confirm what it was. And then I washed the backpack on hot.

    I’m wondering if I can still travel with this backpack. I bought it specifically for my trip to carry it on and really want to use it. Someone warned me not to take it in case there was still a scent or residue in the bag. They felt I could get in a lot of trouble. Common sense tells me that I couldn’t possibly be kept from my flight or get in trouble since there wouldn’t be anything they’d find. But I wanted to ask if anyone knows for sure about this.

    Is it likely that a scanner or swab or whatever those silver wand things are would pick up any trace of that stuff? And if so what would happen?

    I’ve washed the bag. Is there anything else I can do to ensure it’s totally cleaned up?

    The wands look for explosives. Dogs are used for drugs. Also, there are probably more drug residues on the bills in your wallet.

    @npl Not true. They do swab bags for drugs. They stick it in this machine and if positive it tells you what drug it picked up. However, that will mostly just trigger a thorough search and if they fail to find anything you are good to go. Unless of course you are acting super suspicious.

    @npl: Note that Canada switched completely to polymer banknotes in 2013, and I would guess (though I haven't found confirmation online) that drug residue doesn't "stick" to them as much as it does to traditional paper bills.

    You are probably fine if it is domestic flight. If worst comes to worst, you would just need to call an attorney. If it is an international flight, I would use a different bag because crimes like that, which harm the entire society, are actually punishable by death in many places that Canadair flies. It costs less than 100 US dollars to prevent problems like that completely.

    @MichaelSeifert some people travel in Canada with paper banknotes from other places. I did this myself a couple of weeks ago.

    The hair from my cat, who liked to lie on my suitcase, was frequently detected as some sort of precursor chemical for years after she had died. I didn't wash the suitcase since it was the last connection we had. (When a search turned up nothing, I was on my way.)

  • Just because your bag is triggered doesn't mean you will be in trouble. I bought a backpack at Heathrow duty free while in transit to the US which triggered a positive hit on the explosive wand - while it was still in the plastic.

    It got swiped twice, detected twice, and then the inspector looked at it and just let me through, no muss no fuss.

    In your case, I would get a copy of the police report as an extra assurance, but I would not worry about it.

    Many things will trigger positive, such as remnants of poppy seed bagels and inspectors are trained to look for these and make a holistic determination as to the passenger's risk profile.

    "*get a copy of the police report as an extra assurance*" That's **exactly** what I'd do.

    And bring some extra time.

    @RonJohn I'm confused why. Is it illegal in Canada to use drugs in a jurisdiction where it is legal? If not, why would "this backpack contained drugs at some non-determinate point in time" be a problem in any case? Sure, they'll make extra sure that you don't carry drugs right now (so extra time sounds sensible), but I don't see what else they'd want from you.

    @Voo cops -- even Canadian cops -- can be... unpredictable. If the dog smells drugs on the backpack, they might listen to OPs story, or... having heard so much BS so many times it would make your head swim, they might decide OP is lying dig through **everything**, including bodily cavities.

    @voo it is illegal to transport across national boundaries many things which are legal in both countries. *coughporncough* By the way, one of the reasons is some materials require special customs or duties, e.g. you can't transport homebrew biodiesel because all highway motor fuel refineries need a ton-pile of licensure and corporate status to pay road tax. It is impossible for citizens to pay road tax on homebrew biodiesel because the tax authority simply isn't set up to talk to 10,000 small producers.

    @Harper Yes nothing new there. But the point is, it's obviously illegal to transport illegal substances across the border or to transport things that require customs declarations and so on. But what isn't illegal is to cross the border with a perfectly valid bag that might have had illegal substances at some point in the past. (it won't be the most pleasant trip with or without some additional document, but oh well).

    Would a police report from some time ago stating that the OP had volunteered some drugs but they took no further action actually help? This bag held drugs at some point, but the police then didn't do anything, so of course it must be OK now, mustn't it, officer?

    @AndrewLeach - I was thinking this as well and, going by the advice in the answer, would be more inclined to bring the remnants of poppy seed bagels than the police report.

    @user79730 I didn't think I had to be that explicit. Did everybody forget the usual mantra of "don't volunteer unnecessary information?". If for some miracle you do get stopped and asked about it (as if), it'll simply depend on your demeanor and if the officer had a good or bad day. Providing a (almost certainly) unverifiable "police report" will just arouse additional suspicions.

  • Is it likely that a scanner or swab or whatever those silver wand things are would pick up any trace of that stuff?

    Both drug detecting machines and sniffer dogs operate within the physical realities of our world rather than in a magical CSI-like universe. Therefore unless your backpack still has a sealed compartment with hidden drugs, it is extremely unlikely any sensor would be able to pick up any traces after you've throughly washed it in a washing machine. Remember that pretty much anything contains a trace of drugs these days, so even if a machine is sensitive enough to figure out drugs have been in your possession at some point of time, it would likely be set to a higher threshold to avoid false positives from the majority of travelers.

    Relax and enjoy your backpack.

    I think you underestimate the sensitive of some animals and machines. Especially smell is something where animals can and do surprise us constantly.

    @Tom if the dog is sensitive enough to smell trace amounts of a drug on a backpack that was thoroughly washed, its going to smell false positives **everywhere**. They're also far less effective than claimed by the authorities (see my links for references).

    They're not magical for sure. However, I assure you that cats **can** still smell some things after washing it once with regular detergent (as was done here). I would be surprised if dogs were very different, but I don't own a sniffer dog.

    @Tom The matter is not if the dogs can technically smell it but rather if they are trained to react to such small traces.

    The question was if she should be worried or not. I don't think she should, but blankly stating that after one washing all traces of smell will surely be gone is a bit too optimistic.

    If this "mom of one" named Elizabeth is in actuality figity, nervous, brown and named Elizabeta, she might get scrutinized a bit more. Or not, if the cops fear a lawsuit. Better to be safe than sorry.

  • They do have swabs and machines that can detect traces of hard drugs at Canadian airports, but they're going to be most likely checking on arrival (that may change after October 17, 2018) and you have what is likely a good enough story assuming there's nothing there to find.

    You'd have to be very unlucky (or be doing something to stand out) to even get that treatment unless they're suspicious for some other reason. The only time I've seen them is on the Border Security TV show, whereas I've been swabbed for explosives a couple times and often have my carry on rifled through because of all the weird things I carry. People I know have had problems because of residue on their shoes and clothes (from various legitimate activities) that light up the explosives detectors.

    I used to trigger the explosives detectors every flight when still using slide film. The celluloid film base was similar enough to nitrocelluloid based explosives to set off the equipment. Never had a problem, they knew the false positives well enough

    What's so special about October 17th?

    @BurhanKhalid Pot becomes (federally) legal in Canada on that day, so there may be more vigilance in preventing export. I believe the Netherlands has some such controls. If they're looking for pot, they'll look for illegal drugs too.

  • In Montreal, as I went through the full body scan machine and my baggage and backpack through the baggage scan, something was set off. I then was patted down by a female agent, all my baggage was searched by a young male agent, each rolled-up article of clothing unrolled, all my camera equipment, each part of the baggage and articles.

    Finally, when I asked they said it was probably a "trace" of some chemical, "Tetracyl or Tetraxyl" was found. When they asked where and at what job I worked and heard I was a nurse at a large health centre in Montreal, they said that must be it! (in psychiatry but I do give liquid long-acting injectable antipsychotics, so maybe that was it).

    They also asked what medication I take... Fortunately, I arrived at the airport early but I was in shock after and barely got to my gate! It did not help that in the past the procedure of placing stuff in bins mixed up with others meant my laptop was picked up by someone else! So I was already anxious so maintain your cool!

  • Domestic travel:

    Swabbing is primarily for explosive residue. With the changing laws, swabbing for drugs at the terminal entrance would not be practical.

    International travel into Canada:

    Perhaps nothing or you can be denied entry under the suspicion that you will use drugs in the country.

    If you can find it, there is a TV show Border Patrol where you will see this scenario come up several times.

    The traveler is always thoroughly searched, then the border officers will make a decision.

    If the residue in question is marijuana, that's now legal in Canada.

    @jpatokal This has been on the show. CBP freely says that while cannabis is legal to posses and use in Canada, it's still illegal to cross the border so the traveler still gets searched. OP mentioned specifically 'hard drugs' though which would still be treated as such.

    The OP does not say they're crossing the border.

    @jpatokal You are right. Swab + drugs most frequently means a border inspection as swabbing in domestic travel is primarily for explosive residue.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM