Posted by: Rob | January 6, 2010

Border Follies

It seems that crossing the Canada / USA is becoming a harrowing experience for some these days. I was somewhat startled to see the following account of Amy Goodman’s transiting into Canada for a speaking engagement in Vancouver, BC last November on the Zoo blog. Zoo blogger nwmuse opines:

Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!) was stopped by Canadian border guards as she tried to cross into Canada in order to speak at a couple of functions. She was held for over 90 minutes and was issued a “control” document, basically a temporary visa. She and her crew were photographed and told they had to show proof of leaving Canada by midnight today.

She felt quite threatened. As they were held, the guards went through their car and actually went into their computers. Specifically, the officials demanded to know if Amy Goodman was going to speak against hosting the 2010 Olympic games in Canada. It is quite chilling listening to her description of what happened. She was unaware of being on a ‘watch list’, but now wonders.

I watched the video on the blog post as well (which appears to be a CBC television news snippet) and, quite frankly, did not see anything out of the ordinary, really.

I won’t be one to quickly jump to the defense of Canada Customs.  They have always been particularly (and needlessly) interested in potential contraband that returning Canadians might be bringing home with them.  In fact, I learned the hard way that one should never declare zero purchases when re-entering and ever since I have always declared some items purchased abroad, even if entirely fictitious.  Canadians have always (justifiably) believed that it’s more difficult to re-enter Canada as a citizen than as a visitor.  But, I digress.

It should come as no surprise when entering a foreign country, that the border agents are keenly interested in what you will be doing while in their country.  One should never forget that these people have been vested with ultimate – and I mean ultimate – authority and say-so over whether you can enter, citizen or not.

In the case of Amy Goodman, I imagine the primary interest was in whether or not she would be engaged in paying work.  The definitions of paid work vary quite a bit these days but, in the basic sense, if you are going to be compensated for doing something that loosely resembles work, and you are neither a citizen nor legal resident, then you must have the requisite visa permissions in order to enter the country and do said work.  Being vague about what it is you are up to is the surest way to bring additional scrutiny to bear.

I think that, in this case and with the barest of information available, that Amy Goodman received treatment that was not outside the norm.  While it is true that American citizens can enter Canada for periods of up to six months without requiring a visitor visa, it is the border agent’s prerogative to issue one as he or she sees fit.

As for the chilling aspect of the experience and the whole comment about Nazi Germany – “Your papers please?” – well, it was nothing like the treatment that Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts received at the hands of US Customs and Border Patrol as he was exiting the US last December.  And he is not out of the woods yet.


  1. Hummm. Do I feel bad about this border madness? Yes, I do. Do I feel bad about the good Mr. Watts? Yes, terribly. Do I feel bad that Amy Goodman was harassed? Not so much. It’s payback for unnecessarily beating-up on President Clinton years ago.

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