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MacFADYEN – You have precious few rights at an international crossing

(U.S. Customs & Border Protection image, cbp.com)

NO, CANADIANS, you do not have a right to enter the United States.

You have the privilege of being allowed entry – provided the border officer charged with determining your suitability doesn’t feel you pose a danger, or are otherwise ineligible or objectionable.

In exactly the same way, no American has the right to enter Canada. Our border officers have the same duty and obligation as their American counterparts to refuse entry – to not extend the privilege of being allowed unfettered access to Canada – when they determine that the person seeking entry is ineligible, or their presence could pose a threat to safety and security.

Ever since President Donald Trump was elected, each and every whacky border story that results in a Canadian being excluded is being served up on a self-righteous platter as evidence that tyranny is taking hold south of the border.

What a load of nonsense. There are roughly 300,000 crossings a day between Canada and the U.S. Every single day someone, somewhere will be refused entry.

The in-vogue thing since Trump’s election seems to be for that unlucky traveller to contact their local media in a huff to rail against the injustice. Lately, media outlets are showing a remarkable willingness to give voice and space to situations that in saner times wouldn’t merit so much as a mention.

You are in a legal no man’s land where the traditional view on rights and liberties is turned on its head

I wager everyone who crosses the border on a regular basis has their own catalogue of experiences that range from routine to terrible. It’s just the luck of the draw. I’ve been passed in seconds and I’ve had my vehicle searched from hood to trunk and everywhere in between. On one particularly memorable occasion, a U.S. border agent questioning me on my return didn’t believe I would go to Toronto for only two hours.

Obviously, he had never been to Toronto.

I think most people fail to realize that when they’re at an international border crossing they have, like Alice, gone through the looking glass and arrived in a kind of legal no man’s land where the traditional view on rights and liberties is turned on its head.

A border officer has no need for probable cause. There’s no standard of suspicion that has to be met in order for you to be subjected to secondary and heightened screening. The individual border officer has absolute discretion.

You don’t even have the right to withdraw if you find the inquiry or search objectionable or intrusive, or the questions withering. You can’t say, for example, that you’ve changed your mind about entering and could they please stop the search of your laptop now. Well, in theory you could try that, but good luck trying to cross the border freely on your next attempt if you do.

It could also be that the attitude with which you present yourself for inspection is in need of adjustment. A little humility goes a long way. Just saying.

The bottom line is you have precious few rights at an international border crossing. The best course would be to recognize that the country you seek to enter is under no obligation to allow you passage. It will likely be shocking to anyone who lives in this world (in which the sense of entitlement is ever increasing) that sometimes doors are slammed in your face for no good reason.

The only people who have a right to enter a country are citizens of that country. And if it’s any consolation, citizens trying to re-enter their own country have countless tales of searches and seizures of their personal belongings, or of intense and aggressive questioning – all without any need for explanation or justification.

In other words, crossing a border is sometimes unpleasant. And while everyone should be treated with respect, a little intimidation is not necessarily a bad thing in a world where lunatics want to kill large numbers of people to make a political point.

Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. 

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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About Mel Rothenburger (4703 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on MacFADYEN – You have precious few rights at an international crossing

  1. It’s always been that way. When I was young, had long hair & a big beard ( my friends also ), it was common to be told at the US border that we had to turn around, depending on the border guard on duty at that time. Nothing has really changed over the years, it is just more noticeable since Trump was elected.

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