B.C. skipper John Stirling says a Mexican cartel loaded his sailboat full of fentanyl and methamphetamine in the Sea of Cortez last spring for an ill-fated voyage north.
Stirling, who has a long history of international drug smuggling, provided the details of the journey that landed him in a U.S. prison to investigators after his April 2019 arrest.
Now he is trying to get the candid statements made to U.S. authorities thrown out of court. And he is also alleging in motions filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, that the Americans had no right to arrest him as a Canadian sailing in international waters at the time.
Stirling’s public defender, Lisa Hay, said the charges the B.C. sailor is facing should be dismissed because the U.S. has no jurisdiction to prosecute him.
Hay said that when the U.S. Coast Guard approached Stirling aboard the sailing vessel Mandalay on April 9, 2019, “Mr. Stirling identified himself as John Stirling, asserted that he was the master of the S/V Mandalay, that he was of Canadian nationality and that the S/V Mandalay was also of Canadian nationality.”
If Stirling is to be prosecuted for the drugs found aboard the boat, it should be in Canada, Hays said.
But U.S. prosecutors said that despite Stirling’s claim, the Canadian government checked the Mandalay’s status and the boat has never been registered here. At the time of his arrest, the boat’s stern plaque claimed Seattle as its home port.
“Whether or not Stirling’s ship was Canadian is a question resolved by Canada. The [U.S.] government contacted Canada to verify Stirling’s nationality claim. Canada denied that Stirling’s ship was registered as a Canadian vessel. The U.S. State Department certified Canada’s response,” said the statement, signed by assistant U.S. attorneys Byron Chatfield and Suzanne Miles. “Stirling’s vessel was formerly registered in the United States. That registration was expired at the time of Stirling’s interdiction, but the boat still had American markings on its hull.”
And the prosecutors challenged Stirling’s assertions that incriminating statements he made to hospital staff and police after his arrest should be suppressed because he was impaired after overdosing on fentanyl.
“Stirling told two different nurses that he was a drug smuggler,” the prosecutors’ memo said. “He later confessed the details of his crime to the Department of Homeland Security investigators who interviewed him.”
He told one of the nurses that he had overdosed deliberately because he “got busted” and “did not want to go to jail for the rest of his life, and that he was taking a ton of meth and 10 loads of fentanyl to Canada.”
Stirling’s lawyers argue that police were by his side in the hospital, which is coercive conduct.
And they said that even after Stirling was out of the hospital and read his rights, he “was still suffering from the cognitive effects of his serious overdose” and therefore his statements weren’t voluntary.
More details of what Stirling told police are contained in the new court documents.
“During the interview, Stirling said that he was piloting the sailboat from La Paz, Mexico, to Canada. He said that the boat belonged to a Canadian company called Tropical Time Shares, and that he was just ferrying it for someone for $20,000,” the prosecution documents state. “He said that the company bought the boat two months prior, but that a ‘deletion certification’ had not been issued. Stirling also talked about the drugs aboard. He said that there were 10 wrapped bricks of fentanyl in a bag, and 28 jugs of liquid methamphetamine on board.”
Stirling told investigators “that the drugs were loaded in a boat-to-boat transfer in the Sea of Cortez, from an unspecified cartel, and that he was taking them to a large, also unspecified, criminal organization in Canada.”
B.C. corporate records show that Tropical Time Shares was started in September 2018 by a Victoria man named Colin Cameron. The company has no website or listed phone number. Cameron did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Stirling’s drug-trade history dates to 1990, when he pleaded guilty to cocaine-conspiracy charges and was sentenced to five years.
In 2001, he was arrested on his boat, the Western Wind, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with 2.5 tonnes of cocaine aboard. American authorities turned him over to the RCMP, but he was never charged.
Then in May 2006, he was arrested again off Vancouver Island after police found $6.5 million worth of marijuana on board a 47-metre fishing vessel registered to him. He and several others were charged, but the charges were later dropped.
In 2011, the Americans arrested him off the coast of Colombia with 381 kilograms of cocaine bound for Australia. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years.