I’ve been contacted by an increasing number of people who asked me to investigate conditions at the US-Canadian border.
Many of my correspondents told me they had been turned away and/or harassed at land and air ports of entry going in either direction. These actions have ruined vacations, business trips, family reunions, weddings, and other important activities, and have cost people much money and heartache.
Canadians heading south into the US, especially young women, are increasingly being detained, interrogated, strip-searched and otherwise humiliated by US officials. Vehicles are being dismantled by US agents as they search for drugs, weapons and other contraband; in one case reported to us, a vehicle’s braking system was damaged by the US search, which resulted in a serious traffic accident.
It used to be that people heading north into Canada could count on friendly, welcoming, efficient treatment by Canadian authorities. All that has changed since 9-11, in part because the US government says that Canada is a haven for terrorists due to its allegedly lax immigration policies.
The US has also long criticized Canada for its refusal to wage an all-out war against marijuana. For several years, US drug agents have alleged that billions of dollars worth of Canadian cannabis, primarily grown in British Columbia, was flooding into America. Now that the Canadian judicial system and some elected officials are openly suggesting that Canada liberalize its marijuana laws, US officials are routinely attempting to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs by telling the Canadian government not to loosen its pot laws.
US actions have poisoned the relationship it has with its northern neighbor. Canada has responded by instituting strict, 100% enforcement of already-existing Canadian immigration restrictions that disallow anyone with any type of criminal record, even if just a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction, from entering Canada.
Due to the politically-charged nature of the situation, Canadian officials contacted by CC refused to talk on the record or even to comment on some of the more troublesome aspects of the border situation.
Canadian officials did confirm that travel to Canada is not as easy as it used to be, and that zero tolerance immigration enforcement will become the rule rather than the exception at all Canadian ports of entry.
“The rules that say a person cannot enter Canada with any type of misdemeanor or felony have been in place a long time, but they were not enforced uniformly,” explained a spokeswoman at the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC. “But after 9-11, Canada was accused of inadvertently assisting terrorists because of its immigration policies, and our citizens found themselves subjected to a great deal of scrutiny as they attempted to cross the border into the US. It is unfortunate to describe it this way, but it appears that our policymakers decided that we would treat American citizens as badly as our citizens were being treated. Now, if you have a criminal record of any kind, it is likely you will be caught due to an extensive computerized information-sharing agreement between the two governments, and you will be refused entry.”
But it is not just Canadian border agents who are now running records checks and turning away US citizens trying to enter Canada. In many cases, US officials are harassing US citizens trying to re-enter their own home country, conducting warrantless searches of people, their possessions, and their vehicles with no respect for due process or common civility.
Getting into and out of America is becoming increasingly difficult, prompting one correspondent to liken the situation to that which was experienced by Jews in Germany during Hitler’s early reign, and to the situation that hampered travel by residents of East and West Germany before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
The implications of the new North American Berlin Wall should be obvious to anybody involved with cannabis, but let me spell it out explicitly for those who haven’t yet gotten the point: the days of easy travel to and from Canada are over, and the days of being able to easily get across the border with contraband are also over.
Of course, a few people with criminal records (or cannabis, or both) are still probably getting across the borders at border checkpoints, due to the realities of border traffic and lack of 100% zero tolerance enforcement at some ports of entry.
On the other hand, until the citizens of Canada and the US create governments that do not put walls between people based on whether they have been convicted of marijuana crimes, the artificial, arbitrary and counterproductive barrier that now exists at the border between the US and Canada will continue to harm people, nations, and human dignity.
“During the Vietnam War, when thousands of Americans fled the USA to find freedom and safety in Canada, our government passed a law forbidding Canadian border agents from asking Americans about their draft status,” explains Dana Larsen, star of Pot-TV and editor and co-publisher of Cannabis Culture and Cannabis Kultur magazines. “I think that our political party and lobbyists will now push for a law that forbids our border agents from excluding Americans who have marijuana convictions on their records. It makes sense to have immigration policies that keep dangerous people out of Canada, eh, but we should welcome American pot refugees, and I intend to do all I can to convince the government to remove marijuana convictions from the list of ‘crimes’ that will keep a person out of Canada.”