‘I was shocked’: Man arrested at customs after friend’s ashes test positive for illegal drug
What was supposed to be a visit by one grieving friend from England to other grieving friends in Canada, ended in an arrest after the ashes of his friend tested positive for an illegal drug.
Russell Laight came to Canada on March 2 to deliver a portion of the ashes of Simon Darby, a mutual friend. When weather diverted the flight from Halifax to St. John’s, he ran into trouble at customs.
“They took that away, they did a narcotics test of some description on it, and it came up positive for ketamine," said Laight.
Ketamine is an anesthetic and painkiller used for pain control and sedation during certain medical procedures. Health Canada says when used for medical purposes, ketamine is injected as a liquid. When used recreationally for illicit purposes, it’s changed into a powder.
Laight was immediately arrested and charged.
“I was very, very shocked,” said Laight. “I have nothing to do with anything like that in my life, so I didn't know where it came from, what it was, but as far as I'm concerned, it's supposed to be my buddy’s ashes."
Laight spent six days in jail as a result.
The Canadian Border Services Agency says if field test return a positive result, then CBSA officers have probable grounds to suspect the substance is a narcotic and the material is seized. The traveler is detained and afforded their rights.
Rules state importing cremated human remains into Canada should be declared, and they should also come with the appropriate documents.
Family and friends on both sides of the ocean scrambled to provide those documents. Death certificates were emailed from the UK, while statements from the widow of Darby included the pain-killing drugs he had used before his death from cancer.
Family friend Tracey Jonasson said she came up with an idea while talking to Laight’s lawyer.
“We told them we wanted a retest, and thus she put the request in, and off it went to Health Canada," said Jonasson.
The results showed no ketamine or other drugs from a human cremation.
“I knew that Russell would never risk doing something like that,” said friend Richard Croft. “He's a very clever individual and he'd never risk bringing anything into Canada like that, or risk his future in Canada."
Laight arrived in Halifax on Tuesday without the ashes, which have not yet been to returned from Health Canada.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ron Shaw.