a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Relations need improving at U.S./Canada border

"Entering the US", originally uploaded by AgentG427.

If only the border guards crack smiles, crossing the Canadian/United States line at Niagara Falls might be a bit more pleasant.

But no, traffic moves at a crawl’s space as the officers rattle off a series of questions that don’t seem to go anywhere before they allow people to cross the bridges between these free countries.

“Why do you have an Arizona plate on the front when you live in Pittsburgh?” the Canadian with bulking biceps asks after I hand him my passport

“I like it,” I respond, wondering why it's a crime to make a fashion statement with my front bumper when Pennsylvanians are allowed to bolt any old vanity plate there.

“What are you doing all this way from Pittsburgh?” he says.

“I’m a writer who was working in Buffalo,” I reply. Later, I wonder why he thinks it's odd to drive four-plus hours from my home to such a landmark as Niagara Falls, which is a much shorter distance than exists between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pa.

The questioning continues. He wants to know where I am heading and how long I plan to be in Canada.

I hear Niagara-on-the-Lake is a nice place and want to see it, so goes my answer, before he hands me my passport and waives me into the world’s second largest country in terms of land mass.

The return into my homeland is more unpleasant. The young man in a United States uniform asks me what I do for a living, how long I was in Canada, the name of my employer and where I am staying tonight, among other things.

Then he asks me where I last worked, after I had already answered that question. “The Observer-Reporter,” I repeat.

“No, I mean, what is the last travel story you did?” he says.

I never told him, prior to this point, that I write travel stories. He waives me along after saying that I came to Buffalo, NY, to write some stories and felt like seeing the falls from the Canadian side.

As I head south on Interstate I90, I remind myself that America is still struggling with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the border guards might be afraid for our country. That, or they lack the right training or any sense of common courtesy. At the same time, there is no way these folks can be effective in their jobs with this line of questioning because there is heavy traffic crossing the border today, with much longer lines leaving Canada than my country that has an incredibly shrinking dollar.

I have no criminal record, work hard for a paycheck, am not apparently on any terrorist watch list and have a legal passport. If the passport systems works, it should make crossing these points a breeze. I prefer to be ushered home with less suspicion, a higher degree of pleasantness and fewer stupid questions from the person holding the key.


Amanda Gillooly said...

Scotty, you're wrong. The drinking age in Canada is 19, so for spring break, some friends and I drove to Windsor to have a week of drunken debauchery. That was in 1999, and they gave us a similar line of questioning. When we went were entering the country, we must not have answered their question appropriately because they made us pull over. They told us to get out of the car, they searched the car and our bags while we were sent to a customs agent. She wanted us to prove we had cash. Luckily, I had already exchanged my American dollars, and thrust a fist full of Canadian coin into her face. After about 25 minutes they finally let us into the country. I felt like a criminal, man.

Scott Beveridge said...

Wrong about what? You seem to be in agreement about this unpleasant experience....

Perfesser said...


IMO, the Arizona plate question seems reasonable, since it is an unusual thing. And he may not know how many plates PA requires, since Ontario has plates in both the front and rear.

The questions "where you're heading" and "how long you'll be there" are pretty standard questions for every country border guards.

The questions are standard and they need to be asked of everyone. The border guards do not want to be accused of "profiling" suspected groups as terrorists. That would be discrimination...

Scott Beveridge said...

You are right perfesser. I've always answered those questions on a form while approaching the landing strip. It was far easier for me to get into Hanoi and Cambodia than the border of discussion.

Amanda Gillooly said...

It isn't because of 911. Sorry for the confusion.