FEBRUARY 1, 2003
RCMP RAID DISH VENDORS (Craid Pearson, Windsor Star)
Satellite cards, other equipment confiscated

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Friday launched their first major public assault in Windsor on what they deem illegal satellite equipment, raiding four stores and confiscating satellite cards from customers who showed up during the operation.

"Seizing equipment from these establishments is just one part of the investigation," RCMP Corp. Earle Bailey said

"The investigation in not complete and may not be complete for some time."

Bailey declined to comment on who the RCMP would target next, though he said they aren't considering knocking on residential doors.

Side bar: The RCMP Says under the Radiocomunications Act, it is illegal to manufacture, import, distribute, lease, offer for sale, sell, install, modify, operate, or posses any equipment capable of decoding a scrambled signal, unless you are paying for the signal through an authorized Canadian distributor. Consumers can face fines of up to $5,000 and/or up to 12 months in prision, while businesses face fines of up to $25,000.

"We don't have the manpower to go after homeowners who own (illegal) satellite receivers," Bailey said. "But they are breaking the law. It's to their benefit if they do get rid of their receivers and get the proper equipment allowable in Canada."

Bailey said the RCMP made sure nobody who works at the Windsor detachment owns illegal satellite equipment before starting the operation.

The search warrants were executed simultaneously around the city starting around 2 p.m., at Direct Satellite (Walker at Ypres); Satellite Connection (314 Wyandotte St. E.); Satellite Den (441 Wyandotte St. E.); and Satellite Express (Howard and Eugenie).

No charges have been laid. But officers filled vans and U-haul trucks with dozens of confiscated boxes - holding satellite dishes, receivers, program loaders, access cards, computer hard drives - that easily amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

Abe Guenther, owner of Direct Satellite, said officers seized nearly $40,000 from his store alone, including about $7000 cash, even though he said some of the money came from non-satellite-related sales.

He considers the suprise RCMP raid unjust, since Toronto lawyer Alan Gold still has a group legal challenge - based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - before the courts. Guenther has contributed financially to the legal fight and thinks all satellite dealers and viewers should as well, since he feels it's about allowing Canadians to watch whatever TV they choose.

Ruling last year

April 26, the Supreme Court ruled that unauthorized decoding of encrypted television signals is a breach of the federal Radiocommunication Act, as is selling the equipment to decode signals. Futhermore, the court ruled that only Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice are licensed to provide direct-to-home programming in Canada.

That means satellite television equipment from American giants like EchoStar and DirecTV, which sprout from thousands of rooftops across Windsor, is not allowed.

"It's a shame that the RCMP is taking orders from Bell, even though Section 9.1C (which deals with encrypted signals) of the Radiocommunications Act is a clear violation of our Canadian rights," Guenther said. "Bell and the attorney general have ignored their obligation to prove otherwise. We are a free country."

Lawer Craig Houle said he has a client whose Windsor home was raided earlier in the month by RCMP officers armed with a warrant to seize satellite TV and computer equipment.

"I anticipate from my discussions with the RCMP officer that there will be charges coming," Houle said.

The delay between the seizure of the equipment and charges is not unusual in such cases, he said.

"That happens every once in a while, that the raid takes place and they'll want to assess the evidence from the warrant seizure," Houle said. "Right now, there are no allegation against my client."