Three American predator drones patrol the Canadian border, while five patrol the border of America with Mexico. They are believed to patrol the portion of the border along the three prairie provinces and southern BC, from their base in the northern US.
The Digital Journal.com reports, crediting the US Government Accountability Office, that ‘238 drug smugglers and 4,865 undocumented immigrants’ have been apprehended using drones in the past six years (most or all of them along the Mexican/US border). The US GAO also reports that the US Department of Homeland security plans to increase the number of drones used in border patrol to 24 by 2016, budgets permitting. It isn’t clear how many would be deployed along the Canadian border.
The Digital Journal article also suggests that the drones have cost $20 million each and cost $3,600 per hour to operate. $240 million have been spent so far, not counting operating costs.
It isn’t clear how many drug smugglers and illegal immigrants have been apprehended entering the US from Canada, but the number is certainly small to non existent, suggesting that the US is paying a great deal of money to patrol the quiet Canadian border. To date I am not aware of a single report of a drone involved in the apprehension of a smuggler or an illegal immigrant along the northern border.
Because of the vast distances, low population, and lack of cover, few smugglers or illegal immigrants would use any means of crossing the border that did not involve transportation, where they would be subject to inspection by ground based immigration officers. The overhead drone surveillance appears to be an expensive toy for the US Homeland Security force.
William Booth, writing in the Washington post, describes an incident where drone operators closely observed a citizen living near the border, from 15,000 feet, noting just how intrusive the technology is. Indeed the American Civil Liberties Union has begun a campaign to demand protection to be put in place to protect Americans from intrusive drone surveillance. Their very good report on the issue can be found here.
There appears to be no equivalent campaign in Canada. Perhaps there should be, as the American drones can send back sharp images of Canadian backyards from well within American airspace.