MONTREAL - Montreal's port is busier than ever and that's increased age-old worries about drugs and other illicit cargo being shipped into town.

The image of Montreal as a major centre of drug importation in North America has been earned through the ages by various criminal gangs determined to get dope onto city streets.

But Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, said cracking down on drug traffickers remains a major priority.

Vachon said the port has 350 cameras that are in operation 24-hours-per-day and a two-metre fence that spans the entire facility.

"Frankly, I don't like this image," she told reporters Tuesday. "We try very hard to be a port. It's a very integrated community and for sure this image is not a great image for us."

Her assurances came as Canadian border authorities announced Tuesday that they seized a record $1.7 billion in drugs in 2010, most of it in marijuana.

Eric Slinn of the RCMP said the drug shipments into the port, which range from marijuana to heroin, remain a concern.

"Vancouver and Mntreal are obviously the two biggest ports, there are other ports such as Prince Rupert that are emerging," he said.

La Presse, citing federal documents, has reported that up to 75 per cent of drugs that enter Canada by sea could be coming through Montreal's port.

The world's largest inland port outdid itself again in 2011, having likely reached a record 28 million tonnes of volume in 2011, up about 16 percent from the record set in 2010.

Among the factors propelling its impressive growth is a significant increase in container shipping from the Mediterranean region.

Cracking down on smuggling

Vachon said that the port works with the RCMP and other policing authorities to crack down on smuggling.

"You know it's not our first mandate," she said. "We are there to collaborate with them and we have a small team who's in charge of the security of our own operations."

The Coast Guard, which once aimed at helping ships in distress, now finds itself frequently busy ferrying RCMP agents onto suspicious craft.

"Since 2001, the Coast Guard has a little shift in its mandate," said Marc Demonceaux of the Canadian Coast Guard.

"We increasingly support those agencies that take care of those threats and concerns."

In the past, some longshoremen were seen as part of the problem, undermining the hunt for drug shipments.

The union said workers are screened before going on the job.

"I believe it's a very efficient port and a safe port," said Albert Batten, President of Local 1657 International Longshoreman's Association. "Everyone has to go through a security clearance. They all have to be cleared prior to working."