Like most Canadians, I live close to the US border and have routinely traveled into the US throughout my life. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) about four years ago. On November 8th 2007, I was traveling to the US with my son and daughter, both in their twenties. My daughter was taking a flight from the US to Florida so it would be three of us going down, and two of us returning in a few hours, a historically common practice for many traveling Canadians. Upon arrival at the border, my daughter’s flight ticket was produced, verifying she was leaving that day for a weekend trip. The duty officer asked for all of our identifications and took them into the office, presumably for a computer check. When she returned a few minutes later, she requested all of us to leave the vehicle.
When I went to get out, I instinctively grabbed my purse to take with me, and she instructed me to leave it behind, which I did. The duty officer took nearly ten minutes inspecting every aspect of my daughter’s vehicle, and when she came into the office, instructed my two adult children to return to the car and asked me to remain behind. She asked me if I smoked. Surprised, I said yes. She then asked me if I smoked marijuana because she detected a faint odor in my purse. I again said yes, adding it’s for medical reasons and that I have a federal government card permitting me use. I was allowed to go and get my purse, and produced the card, expecting that to be the end of it.
If at this moment you are thinking I had marijuana with me at the time, you’d be wrong. Or if you are thinking it must at least reek of marijuana, you’d also be wrong. I did not have anything with me as carrying marijuana into the US would be an incredibly stupid move based on their anti-everything policies. And I seldom ever carry anything around, period, and couldn’t honestly recall the last time I might have. Either she has the nose equal to that of a bloodhound or had an odor-sensor tool because I’m sure an average person would not have smelled anything in my purse. On my body, perhaps, but not in my purse.
It is early afternoon and the travel window for the flight departure is less than two hours. My children are instructed to remain in the car while I remained inside, and instructed to provide a statement. The duty officer explained that giving a statement now would explain everything and remain on file for future border crossings to avoid further issues about this. As much as I detested the thought of being singled out in any way, shape or form and even more so having my name automatically pulled up on the border computers, I conceded and cooperated. All of my ID was photocopied and that included other disability identification. My statement explained that I wouldn’t dream of carrying anything into the US because I understand it’s only legal in Canada and that I use it for multiple sclerosis symptoms, etc. I was truthful in all ways. Once the statement was completed, I was allowed to return to the car with my children to wait for clearance. A few minutes later the duty officer returned and told me that I would not be allowed to enter into the US and must come back into the customs office now for more statements because I have officially been refused entry.
All three of us in the car went “Huh?” She explained that she had truly believed I would be allowed entry after the statement taken, but when she submitted it for clearance, was told absolutely not. She said she even went to the next level and was again told absolutely no entry and that I now was required to return to the office for more statements and forms. I was supposed to be the return driver as my son was unfamiliar with my daughter’s car and both of them totally unfamiliar with the city they are driving to. Now that I was suddenly eliminated from the trip, the two of them were left to drive on their own without benefit of my directions to the airport, make the flight on time, and hopefully my son manage to drive back to Canada on the right highway without being in an accident! As I had just been detained nearly an hour by this time, it was a hurried good-bye and I said I would wait there and read until he came back through. I was very concerned about my son’s return trip as he was not at all prepared for the drive and would be completely alone, something he would never have agreed to do in the first place.
Once back inside, within minutes what I believed to be a temporary setback turned into an avalanche of bad news — first, that I would not be allowed into the US which I thought meant for that trip; secondly, having it clarified that this was not a onetime denial, this was permanently banned from the US for being an admitted drug user; third, that it was required that I have two sets of fingerprints taken as well as mug shots for the civil file now in my name; and fourth, warned that if I attempt to enter the US again, I will be heavily fined and any vehicle I’m in will be confiscated and any other country I travel to now when asked if I’ve ever been denied entry into a country, must now declare that I was refused entry to the US for being an “admitted drug user”!
It was another hour inside the customs being processed, most of the time in tears. The duty officer did what she was supposed to do and thanked me at the end for being so cooperative… I asked her if I could leave, and she said yes, but suggested I remain there to wait for my son’s return. I shook my head and said absolutely no way am I staying here a second more than I have to after all this. She gave me copies of my denial papers to deliver to the Canadian Customs and expected I would wait there. But I was too upset to do anything but walk off my anger and disappointment. I handed the papers to the Canadian border on my way by, and said thanks but no thanks to remaining inside the Canadian customs office until my son (hopefully) returned from the airport trip, at least another 4 hours from now.
This particular border crossing is in a rural location and miles from the nearest city. I felt I could walk there in a few hours, and at least physically vent my anguish, not realizing (remembering) that what I thought was maybe ten miles back was more like forty. The US border is at the end of a long stretch of isolated highway without any street lights. Since it was November it was getting dark by late afternoon. And since it was Sunday, travel to and from the border was almost nil and why the Canadian customs officer had pleaded with me to not walk but to remain there. It was now occurring to me that walking was not the smartest idea since it would be a very black winter night soon, and I could still not see any city in sight. My choices were to continue, go back, or hitchhike. I kept walking for several minutes until I heard a car come by. I stopped, turned towards it and stuck my thumb out. It continued past me, leaving me alone and wondering when (or if) another car would come by. I was now unable to see any skyline because of the continuing darkness and wondered what the chances were of encountering a wild animal, trying hard to not let myself get nervous about the possibilities. Within the next ten minutes a second vehicle was coming and this time stopped for me and I got to the small city (a further twenty minute drive) where I would wait for my son’s eventful return.
For several days after I was ill from the shock and stress and long walk. It was several weeks before I could even begin to talk about it. I have previously spent many vacations in the US and hoped to travel in the near future. Now all those possibilities were ripped away because I’m a federally approved Canadian medical marijuana user, interpreted by the US as an admitted drug user and now in their all-seeing database. The points to this experience are numerous and repercussions extensive. For your consideration: How can I be deemed a drug user in the US when I didn’t commit an offense on US soil? Why am I banned for having genuine, federal cards identifying myself as a medical marijuana candidate? How is it that medical marijuana is legal in California for US citizens who qualify and they still did this?
My answers to these questions are this: The US is accumulating data on every single person in every possible way and follows their own rules, ignoring any rights we think we might have. That medical marijuana is legal in California has no relevance to them. There is no distinction between marijuana use and heroin addiction to them. Nor is there any distinction between a medical user and a street drug dealer. I was now declared criminally ill despite being legal in every inch of Canada and did not commit any offence on US soil. It has been three months since this has happened, and I am still traumatized by the entire experience but at least able to talk about it.
For you and anyone you know planning on going to the US, I have learned through other media releases and testimonials that people are even being banned for having admitted to trying marijuana (or any drugs) in their past. This is known as “retroactive punishment” and about as unconstitutional as you can get. Since my experience, I’ve discovered other examples that include the US border confiscating business people’s laptops and copying their hard drives upon entering the US, and that some companies are now sending their employees without computers for that reason. So if you are ill and on medically prescribed drugs, don’t mention it. If you are asked if you have ever done any drugs in your life, say no. If you have anything personal on a laptop, be prepared to have it taken. Otherwise, enjoy your trip while you can…
– Submitted anonymously to the Newsletter of the West Kootenay Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
Volume 7, Issue 2, March 2008
Click here for PDF link
*****EXTRA WARNING STORY*****
U.S. to collect DNA at border
Detainees must provide sample
Canwest News Service
Published Sunday, April 20, 2008
Canadians suspected of offences at the U.S. border will be ordered to provide DNA samples starting later this year. The new U.S. policy will require that DNA swab samples be taken from anyone arrested in the United States and from foreigners detained at the border who are not legal U.S. residents. Detained Canadians would only be subject to DNA collection “if there were sufficient grounds to justify an arrest or detention,” said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Erik Ablin, adding an illegal presence in the U.S. would be one such ground.
“If any person is arrested, or a non-United States person is detained, the circumstances in which DNA would be collected would, as a general rule, be congruent with those in which the person would be fingerprinted under current practice.” Ablin did not say what other activities beside illegal presence in the United States would result in a DNA demand from border guards. DNA profiles, collected to fight and solve crime, go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and are entered in the national law-enforcement DNA database, Ablin said. Privacy laws cover that database, Ablin said. “The design and rules of the system preclude using DNA samples and profiles for such purposes as determining an individual’s genetic traits, diseases, disorders or dispositions,” he said.
– Article from the Calgary Sun and other newspapers