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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Crossing the Border

I have crossed the Canada/US border many times both ways.  I have always felt nervous crossing into the United States and always relief when I finally come back into  Canada.  I have no personal experience to make me particularly nervous about the experience of going into the US although my impression of the US Border agents was that they were humourless and  officious: now one to joke with or even pass the time of day. I followed the rule of answering the question directly and as briefly as possible. . Offer no additional information and appear humble. Most of the time this worked as  a Canadian (a white Canadian with an identifiable Canadian accent) I gave no reason for anyone to be suspicious of me.

I have had situations at the border that have been interesting. Once when crossing from Windsor to Detroit on my way to Minnesota I discovered I have forgotten my birth certificate. I had crossed before without even being asked for it so I expected they would still let me pass.  I was refused and  when the agent said "How to I know you are from Toronto? I pointed out the same way I know how he was from Detroit, The way we each pronounced the name of our cities.  I was still refused. I certainly did not want to drive back four hours to get my birth certificate so I decided to try the tunnel a few miles upstream. At this crossing I was waved through without having to show my birth certificate.

Once crossing back into the United States at a quiet rural crossing between Quebec and Vermont I was given  a long hard look because I was driving a pick up truck and had a tool box in the back.  They suspected I was trying to get into the US to work. I got annoyed when the agent did not know the difference between  the Unitarian Church and the Unification Church. I kept my cool. I was eventually allowed in. the US.

Another time returning into the US at Calais, Me. ( I had a green card my now)  for the first time I saw a border agent come out with a side arm strapped on..  That made me nervous right away. We were quizzed and them made to dismantle a lot of our camping gear including opening up our tent. All the time, my American friend was saying, "I am an American, I am the Associate Minister of the First Church in Boston. That didn't make any impression although I wanted to laugh my head off at his approach with this northern Mainiac who probably had never been to Boston.  I felt pretty safe when he opened the glove compartment and did not recognize the marijuana pipe in full view. We were soon on our way. My friend was embarrassed at his lack of influence and relieved he had buried his dope in a Mason jar on the Canadian side to be picked up on the next trip to Prince Edward Island, where he is now retired.

In those days, our only concern was that we had no citrus fruit with us as one cannot bring it into the US. It seems times have changed.

I have never had any trouble coming back into Canada.  Canadian Border agents always began with a cheery." Welcome to Canada"  followed by "Where are you going" How long are going to stay?" It was all very civil. And we were waved on our way..

Once I was full of dread when I returned to Canada with all my worldly goods in a 27 foot U haul.It was April Fools Day at midnight in 1975.  After a brief conversation with the agent. He had me open the back of the truck.It was filled to the doors with my canoe just fitting in on a diagonal angle on top.  I was aware he could ask me to unload it. I had gone to great effort to make a detailed list of the contents of all the boxes, which I had given him.  He took one look at the load and said shut it down and I was on my way.

Even when I returned with a friend from Florida  over a decade ago, with a trailer full of her stuff as she was coming to stay for an indefinite period of time.  We were crossing at the Akwesasne First Nation's Reserve that straddle the border between Ontario and New York.  The border agents were very relaxed. Even after they saw through the story we had made up to make it easier to get into Canada, they smiled and sent us on our way without having us unpack the trailer of household goods..

It interests me that this Mohawk First Nation has had the border crossing station removed from their reserve recently because the Canadian government decided to arm border agents.. I believe the Canadian inspection station is now on the US side.  Good for our Red brothers.  The arming of Canadian border agents is our Conservative government which always seeks to please the Americans, trying to appear tougher at the border.

It seems times have changed.  Listen to the frightening video below of a couple of Canadians who decided they would cross into the US to spend some money.  I doubt if they will ever go back.  They are from my home town and I imagine they had crossed before. with less exciting results.

Like so many Canadians they think they are above suspicion.  They also think civil servants should act civil and that we have a right to question what bureaucrats are doing.  WRONG. American border agents are a law unto themselves.  Like so many law enforcement agencies their job appeals to people who are bullies and enjoy having authority over others.  What strikes me about this audio recording as the total lack of people skills on the US agents part. Even the supervisor.  At one point, when the clearly annoyed and bewildered Canadians tried to ask more questions the whole situation could have been defused with a statement like "I understand that you are finding this all annoying so please take a seat and I will try to get you quickly on your way again.  Now that you have been sent in here by the agent outside I am required to ask you some further questions."   Sadly, that was not the way it played out. It ends with an arrest it seems.  I only wish we had video with this. I assume they were a couple of born Canadians and white.  It makes me wonder what trouble an immigrant Canadian would have particularly if he was from the middle east or Asia.

Welcome to the United States!



At 10:19 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I think things became silly after 9/11. I've only been across once since, and that was some time ago. I didn't have any trouble really, except trying to figure out the answer when he asked about the purpose of the trip. All he wanted to know is that we were travelling thru Michigan to get to Sarnia quicker than by the Canadian route. Meanwhile, I was telling him where we had driven from and that we had been camping and so on. I do well remember the days that we could usually cross from Sarnia to Port Huron without ID.

At 11:44 a.m., Blogger KGMom said...

We cross the border at least once or twice a year--we have friends with a summer cottage on the U.S. side in the Thousand Island Park area--and we like to visit Kingston, Ontario. We have learned to just answer directly and simply. I suspect the "mistake" of the people in the video was talking back so soon. Not that they were in the wrong. Plus it could have been a jumpy agent.
What is sad to me is how our histories--U.S. and Canada--are interwoven, and now (because of 9/11)we--the U.S.--act as though it's us against the world. That leaves us without friends too many times. And then we wonder why the U.S. is not liked around the world. Sad sad sad.


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