Monday, April 8, 2013

Homeland Security Bullying Innocents

Have you ever been slapped in the face? Stopped from going where you're going? Told you CAN"T go there. In short, ever been bullied?

Most people have been bullied in one way or another and I think many can probably identify with the following story.

Recently I attempted to enter the U.S. from Toronto Pearson airport. I was all set to meet my son in Florida. I was also going to see an old friend I hadn't seen in over ten years.  I was excited to be leaving. I'd just had a week from hell (had to bury my dog, my car broke down, and winter storms were depressing me. I desperately needed a little break. A week in sunny Florida would be just the right medicine.

I was stopped by U.S. Customs who sent me to what they euphemistically call "secondary inspection" and there I was grilled, interrogated, fingerprinted, photographed and generally treated like a criminal. Why? Because of a forty year old minor cannabis conviction from 1973 in Canada and for which I served time.

Clearly, I did my time (spent a year in jail and two years probation) and paid my debt to society...Canadian society that is. It really should be none of the American cops' business what happened such a long  time ago in my own country.

Frankly, it never seemed to be a problem before. I have entered the U.S. on at least 25 different occasions since 1973. And I have always been forthcoming about my past.  Why, I wondered was it suddenly a problem now?

Homeland Security did not elaborate except to tell me that "something appeared" on the screen that didn't appear before.

It is my understanding that the U.S. Government sponsor's this kind of bullying in that it gives sweeping powers to these border cops and some of them, well they're not terribly educated and they are kinda macho and sometimes just get a kick out of harassing people.

I refused to let them get to me. Even when I knew I had now missed my plane.  I stayed calm and Buddha like. When my file was finally processed and I was seen by a second Homeland Security cop I asked as politely and calmly as I could: "may I know why I am being detained, forced to miss my flight, and not allowed to call my son in Miami to advise him not to drive two hours out of his way to come and get me at the airport?"

The "good" officer said almost apologetically, "I'm sorry you had to miss your flight ma'am but we'll give you something that allows you a reimbursement from the airline.  I'm afraid we have to ask you some questions first.

"Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?" To which I replied honestly, "not in the U.S. sir" and he asked "anywhere else" and I said: "yes, a cannabis conviction over forty years ago. But you guys know about that...I've never tried to hide my past/"

He said: "you were convicted of trafficking narcotics" to which I replied "I never said that...I said it was a  cannabis infraction".

He then told me because of this ancient offence I was deemed "Inadmissible".  I was stunned. "You mean I can never go the U.S. again? " I asked somewhat alarmed.

Good cop said: "well no that's not what it means. You see, all you have to do is apply for this waiver and you can travel to the U.S. any time. Just remember though you always have to have this waiver with you...even if you are just travelling through U.S. Airspace and not even landing in the U.S.  But it is simple enough. You just have to get your fingerprints and have them fill in this paperwork at one of the locations on the back of this page. He showed me a four page document.

I read the document H.S. gave me and I was thunderstruck! I could not believe the list of items they wanted me to proved them. First of all they wanted original documents from the courthouse, RCMP files, get fingerprinted again, write a four page document in my own words describing the nature of the crime, what punishment or fines entailed, what form of rehabilitation I've undertaken. Furthermore they wanted  income tax documents, proof of income, insurance, mortgage or lease (proof of residency), proof of citizenship (my passport is not good enough?), at least two personal character references. The list goes on. ON TOP OF THIS THEY WANTED ME TO PAY  A FEE OF $585.  

There is no doubt in my mind that this is an out and out case of bullying and government sanctioned extortion I wonder how many others have been bullied by Homeland Security.   I'd love to compile some stories if anyone wants to share their story.

I also decided to turn this incident into something artful or at least a good joke. Attached is a song I wrote about my experience. I hope you enjoy it.


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