10-year sentence in precedent-setting smuggling case

First trial judge said border guards should have warrants to search vehicles.

Nearly seven years after he was arrested, Ajitpal Singh Sekhon has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for trying to smuggle a large quantity of cocaine across the U.S. border into Canada in 2005.

Sekhon was found guilty last year on one count of importing a controlled substance and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking.

His sentencing on Friday (Nov. 25) marked an end to a lengthy legal battle that began when a Surrey judge threw out the charges in a controversial 2007 ruling that would have required Canadian border guards to get a warrant before searching any vehicles.

Sekhon was stopped at the Aldergrove border crossing on Jan. 25, 2005. One guard testified Sekhon was gripping the steering wheel tightly, his jaw rigid as he failed to make eye contact while being questioned.

Judge Ellen Gordon ruled the border guards’ inspection of the truck was unconstitutional because they needed reasonable grounds to obtain a warrant rather than acting on a hunch.

At the time, the union that represents border guards warned that traffic would grind to a halt if guards had to get warrants every time they wanted to search a vehicle.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that border guards do not need warrants, threw out Gordon’s decision and ordered a new trial.

Surrey Provincial Court Judge Paul Dohm convicted Sekhon after a second trial in October 2009. His sentence also includes a 10-year firearms prohibition.

– with files from Dan Ferguson