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Second pigeon wearing homemade smuggling backpack found inside B.C. prison

A second pigeon wearing a tiny makeshift backpack presumably meant for smuggling drugs has been found at a corrections facility in Abbotsford, B.C., nearly two months to the day after another bird carrying a package of crystal meth was found at the prison next door.

Officers discovered the latest bird wearing its backpack inside Matsqui Institution during a routine search on the morning of Feb. 27, according to its union. The backpack, possibly made from cut-up jeans, was empty — leading guards to believe the bird might have still been in training.

“It was actually inside the institution where they actually found the pigeon, again wearing a small fabric-like backpack,” said John Randle, Pacific regional president of the Union for Canadian Correctional Officers.

“Where did it come from, and what was happening? That’s kind of the big discussion right now.”

Homing pigeons have been used to smuggle drugs into prisons for decades, valued for their ability to fly long distances to return to their “home” lofts. Experts say it would be possible to train a bird to see a prison as its home loft, so it would fly into the institution with cargo attached on the outside.

It’s an old-school smuggling tactic that’s challenging to investigate.

“We’ve been dealing with drones … We’ve been dealing with throw-overs. We’ve been dealing with smuggling, and now we have to deal with the wildlife aspect, which is completely new to us,” Randle said.

“With a pigeon being a wild animal, it’s a wild card.”

Backpack possibly made from old jeans

Randle said it’s possible the bird got inside the medium-security prison through an open window or through one of the recreation yards, where inmates can spend time outside. It’s also possible the bird’s backpack had already been emptied before guards found it, but the union believes the pigeon-in-training theory is more likely.

“It kind of looks like, right now, that was what was happening was it was trying to be trained as the source of food in that area,” Randle said.

Randle said inmates are believed to be cutting up old blue jeans or bedsheets to make the backpacks.

“When you spend so much time inside like that, you get very creative on what you can make.”

In December, a pigeon wearing a backpack carrying crystal meth was found in the yard at Pacific Institution. Both pigeons were later released.

CBC News has contacted Corrections Canada and the Abbotsford Police Department for comment on the latest incident.

Randle said “it wouldn’t make sense” for staff to keep the bird because they’re trained to fly “home” to the prison, not to their supplier on the outside. The incidents are among the most difficult to investigate for that reason, compared to drones — or throw-overs, which involve a person lobbing a package over the prison fence.

“This is just another layer of the onion I guess that that we have to find a way to peel back and figure out what’s going on.

“Matsqui Institution, the local union there and their local management … they’re working on a plan to increase searching and increase observation because, clearly, this is a new problem.”

A prison is seen on a cloudy day.
The medium-security Matsqui prison is seen in Abbotsford, B.C., on Sept. 14, 2006. (Richard Lam/The Canadian Press)

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