A British Columbian Provincial Court Judge recently ruled that Canada’s Border Guards cannot search vehicles or people without a court order.
This judgment is a result from a case where a drug smuggler, who was caught with 50 kilos of illegal drugs, successfully argued that the Border Guards who carried out an “illegal” search on his vehicle violated his “Charter Rights”.
The Provincial Court Judge stated that the Canadian Charter of Rights is no less the law at Canada’s border crossings, than it is anywhere else.
According to Canada Customs and Immigration, this judgment is ludicrous and effectively closes them down. If Canada’s Border Guards cannot search at will, then what’s the point of their presence?
At first blush, I agreed with the Border Guards. But then I got to thinking about something that happened to me at the Canada/USA border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia.
It was just after 9/11, and everyone’s nerves were still a bit raw when I crossed into the USA by rental car (without a passport or birth certificate) on my way to Seattle.
There was no problem whatsoever getting into the USA.
The American Border Guard asked the usual questions, and was satisfied with my photo ID driver’s license. Her last words to me were: have a nice trip.
When I came back into Canada on the same day, it was a different story altogether, simply because I didn’t have a passport or birth certificate with me.
I was surrounded in an office area by as many as a half dozen Canada Customs Guards, all decked-out in newly minted black Ninja type uniforms, making our unarmed border tax collectors look more ominous, when one of them asked for the keys to my rental car so they can inspect it.
No problem I said. Let’s go. No. One of them said. You stay here while we search the car. At that point I exploded.
What do you mean; I stay here while you search my car? What happens if you come back and tell me you found drugs or anything else in my car? If I’m not there to watch what you’re doing to my property, you can do whatever you want. You’re not searching my car without me!
But they did.
While I was arguing with them, two or more went out to my unlocked car without my approval or knowledge and conducted a search.
And almost as fast as this confrontation began, it ended (so they thought) when one of the Customs guys said the car’s OK, he can go.
What do you mean the car’s OK? I asked. We checked it over and it’s fine. They told me. You can go now.
Then I really blew-up. You had no right to search that vehicle without having me present. Let me tell you what you’ve just done beyond violating my rights.
I’m not just some guy without a voice and without influence who you can screw-over with impunity. I’ll be doing a live radio show tonight with Stirling Faux on CKNW, British Columbia’s most listened to talk radio that broadcasts throughout BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
And I’m going to be talking about you!
Give me your names. I want each one of you to receive the credit due for violating my rights while you acted like a pack of bullies. With that, every last one of them walked away from me and literally disappeared.
I went to the main office where I was previously forced to appear before an immigration clerk because I didn’t have a passport or birth certificate with me.
And in a very loud voice, I demanded to meet with the “officer in charge”, who I saw on the phone looking my way, as he was obviously being given the heads-up. And he didn’t look happy.
The first thing he said to me when he came out of his office was that everyone was a little on edge because of 9/11, and we can’t take chances.
I told him that the Americans weren’t as much on edge when I went into the USA. And it was them who were attacked, not Canada.
I asked for his name too, so I could mention it live on air tonight. And his response was: There was no damage done, and we were just doing our job. With that, he retreated away from the entire office area. And like the rest of these Canada border bullies, he too disappeared.
I was left in the immigration office standing with about a dozen immigrants all lined-up applying for entry visas, and one single immigration clerk, who was a young Indian woman who spoke with a heavy Indian accent.
Not only could I not get back into the country of my birth without being made to feel like a criminal, and being forced to jump through hoops. Here was a heavily accented immigrant girl wearing a Canada Customs uniform deciding whether or not I can qualify for entry back into MY OWN COUNTRY.
I cross into the USA quite often, and have never had a bad experience coming or going until this episode. But maybe I’m the exception.
Maybe these people who collect taxes at the border overstep their authority more often than I am aware of. Maybe they need to be reminded that they are not there to be bullies.
And just maybe, a judgment such as this will make them better at what they are paid to do.