Computer Stopped Ambulance; Blocked At Border

Computer Stopped Ambulance; Blocked At Border
National Post
Tue 20 Nov 2007
Page: A8
Section: News
Byline: Craig Pearson
Dateline: WINDSOR
Source: CanWest News Service

WINDSOR - The speeding ambulance sent to secondary inspection at the Detroit border last week was pulled over by random computer selection, a U.S. customs official said yesterday.

"The vehicle was selected by the computer for an exam," said Chief Ron Smith, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "It requires that another entry be made to close out the inspection." In this case, he said, border officials looked at the ambulance driver's licence and had the vehicle back on the road in three minutes.

Chief Smith said while ambulances rushing with sirens and lights flashing have been sent briefly to secondary inspection before, this was the first time a computer randomly chose an emergency vehicle for an extra exam. He said U.S. officials are now taking another look at the policy, which does not allow border agents to override the computer selection in the case of emergency vehicles.

Rick Laporte, 49, had already been revived twice after a heart attack and was being rushed to hospital in the United States when his ambulance was pulled over at the tunnel. The driver ran inside to show ID. Mr. Laporte is back in hospital in Windsor recuperating from surgery.

"He's feeling good, he's just really tired," said a colleague, Ken Lewenza. "But he's getting better." He called a computer pulling over an emergency vehicle for a random search "ridiculous."

"Our health-care system has to be reviewed, and this is an opportunity to do it," Mr. Lewenza said. "The No. 1 question behind the border question is why do we have to cross the border in the first place?"

Essex-Windsor EMS management said a review of the call indicates proper procedure was followed and it is satisfied with U.S. border guards' actions. EMS operations manager Dean Wilkinson said Windsor ambulances will likely bring 150 patients to Detroit this year -- most without incident. "Our working relationship is very good," he said. "I would hate to see that working relationship damaged because of one incident."

Windsor MP Brian Masse said it's absurd that a computer dictated who would be stopped at the border. But he also believes the province must now boost the city's health-care facilities. "We've increased medical transfer payments to the province of Ontario and we have a vulnerable community here that is subject to American interpretation of the border," he said. "We need full independence."