01/04/2012 11:03 EST | Updated 03/05/2012 05:12 EST

Port of Montreal fights drug-smuggling reputation

The Port of Montreal is working to lose its reputation as Canada's drug-smuggling hub.

Last year was a record breaking one for the port: More than 28 million tonnes of cargo passed through, more than ever before.

But questions persist about the security of one of Canada’s busiest shipping entry points.

“Montreal, as [with] any other port in the country, because of the volume, it's normal that we're intercepting huge amount of illicit drugs and goods,” said Alain Surprenant, chief of operations with the Canadian Border Services Agency at the Montreal port.

Border services said the value of drugs seized at the Port of Montreal was more than all other Canadian ports combined in 2009.

Only a few weeks ago, authorities intercepted $14 million worth of cocaine at the port, concealed in bottles of sunflower oil.

Sylvie Vachon, president of the Montreal Port Authority, said they are working with police and border services to make the port more secure and improve its reputation.

“We try very hard to be a port that's integrated [into the] community and for sure this image is not a good image for us,” she said.

Montreal has long been a hub for the drug trade because of its proximity to the U.S., crime expert André Cédilot told CBC News.

Organized crime

Criminal organizations like the Mafia and the Hell’s Angels have used contacts within the port to smuggle the drugs past authorities, he said.

“Even if the police arrest people, organized crime continues to infiltrate the port,” he said.

“Most of the big importers, the main people, they’re in Montreal.”

It’s only been in the past 10 years that authorities have cracked down on drug smuggling through the port, Cédilot said.

The RCMP has a permanent squad in the Montreal port, and that could be part of the reason why the volume of drugs intercepted there is so high, he said.

Surprenant said all ships entering any Canadian port now have to report their cargo before they reach Canada so authorities can better assess which containers to intercept.

“We’re working together (with the RCMP) to minimize the impact that organized crime could have on importation at the port,” he said.