While crossing into the United States with my family to begin our Labour Day weekend in Maryland, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the many stories I have heard of border officials behaving badly … on both sides of the border.
Now don’t get me wrong. My encounter was not deserving of Hollywood attention. But still, I felt that my experience was instructive.
After pulling my van up to the inspection booth, I was greeted with a curt “Take off your sunglasses and unlock the side door.” So I did.
The officer asked me where we were going and how long we would be there. I told him.
Then I thought I heard him ask me who I was taking with me to the U.S. I answered,“My wife and four kids.”
As if to challenge me to a duel, he glared at me and said, “Are you trying to be smart with me?”
Refusing to be baited, I instead tried to reconstruct his question and resolve our miscommunication when my wife jumped in and told him that the only things we were bringing into the U.S. were our belongings and some food for the trip.
He grumbled something about taking fruit into the United States and waived us off.
It is little incidences like this that lend credibility to the many accounts I have heard over the years of unprovoked, hot-tempered and abusive treatment by both Canadian and American border officials.
Unlike some of the complainants, I can’t claim to have been intimidated, sworn at, subjected to racist remarks, threatened with a strip search, or anything like that. But still I felt that this incident supported the notion that officers can, and do, unnecessarily escalate tensions with innocent, if not travel-weary, tourists.
In 1984, I worked as an immigration officer at Toronto’s Pearson airport alongside many veterans of our immigration department.
Although I found most to be good-hearted and respectful I have no doubt that, even then, there were travellers who had suffered the occasional mistreatment.
However, I am convinced that the increased powers and deference given to our border officials on both sides of the fence since 9/11 have, in some cases, gone to their heads, giving credence to the notion that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I would very much like to hear from our readers about their recent experiences with the men and women who guard our borders to see if I am wrong.
Guidy Mamann is the senior lawyer at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Law Society as an immigration specialist. Reach him at 416-862-0000. Direct confidential questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.