Join 3,517 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


U.S. Customs - in your face
March 7, 2009 4:52 PM   Subscribe

What has long been touted as the world's longest undefended border (that running between Canada and the United States) has undergone many changes since 9/11. In an effort to secure its Northern border, the U.S. now employs Predator drones, Blackhawk helicopter patrols, high speed boats, and Google searches. There may even be a big fence in our future. More troubling still are increased demands for information on Canadian citizens, and increased searching powers of U.S. border guards. And don't ask them to say please either.
posted by stinkycheese (111 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
They always said a two-state solution was inevitable.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:56 PM on March 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Right, because Canadians are heading south in droves in an effort to escape universal medicare, gay marriage rights, and drinkable beer.
posted by orange swan at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2009 [36 favorites]


Right, because Canadians are heading south in droves in an effort to escape universal medicare, gay marriage rights, and drinkable beer.

I think they're just trying to get away from Sarah Palin.
posted by 0x029a at 5:04 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess a plus side of this is that it could potentially reduce the amount ham that is imported to the US as "bacon".

Dear Canada, The US loves you, we really do. Really. You're badass, but you don't show it. Corner Gas is hilarious. Though we won't admit it (everyone has their faults, even us) we love you more than we love the UK (don't tell them). You're awesome. But we don't think bacon means what you think it means.
posted by Science! at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


I live about 25 minutes from the US border, and I used to travel to the states every couple of weeks for shopping and day trips down to Bellingham. But crossing that border has gotten to be such a mixed bag experience that I just don't bother any more unless someone else REALLY REALLY wants to go, and even then I'm still all "Aw man, do we REALLY have to go to the States?". Sometimes it goes just fine, other times I get to deal with a US Customs officer who just loses his nut for who knows what reason. I've had US Customs guards actually screaming at me with spittle flying from their mouth because they thought an answer was "suspicious".

To contrast that, every time I've dealt with Canadian customs it's been a relatively good experience. Even the few times where they've done the secondary search of my car, going through the trunk, etc.

Canadian customs hasn't always been friendly going through (though most of the time they are), but they HAVE always been professional and courteous. And the Canadian guards I've dealt with do say "please". The same cannot be said for US customs.
posted by barc0001 at 5:13 PM on March 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


drinkable beer.

Canada's fantastic, but I don't get Canadian arrogance about beer. Your beer industry is based on the same piss lager that ours is (including Moosehead, which I suspect has skunk flavoring added at the factory.) You do have Unibroue (the best brewery in North America), but I can buy their products in Massachusetts and cheaper than you can!

I reiterate that I'm only slagging on the beer. Canada is by and large lovely and does not deserve to be walled off. Thanks for Ray Bourque!
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2009


Operation Noble Mustang surveys those hard to reach areas in the Simikameen River Valley, looking for low-flying planes loaded with B.C. bud.

Sounds like a premise for Harold and Kumar Go North
posted by ornate insect at 5:15 PM on March 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dear Canada, The US loves you, we really do.

Speak for yourself. I don't trust no Canadians. Dirty socialist hippies.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:18 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The notion of an effective wall as long as the US/Canada border is ludicrous and everyone knows it. Off the top of my head I can think of three points in Maine where it would be nearly impossible. This might as well be a story about how congress wants a study about sending a manned crew to Saturn.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:19 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speak for yourself. I don't trust no Canadians. Dirty socialist hippies.

Seconded, my brother. They're always, like smiling and shit. And saying 'please'. Fuckin dickwads.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:24 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always hyper aware of what I say/do around border guards because it is so obvious many have a petty power trip thing going on ... but really, pepper-spraying someone full-on in the face for asking the guard to say please? Hmm, the swarthy complexion have anything to do with it?
posted by saucysault at 5:26 PM on March 7, 2009


Ah, yes, the stupid border thing. Just as part of me dies when I learn someone is a "libertarian" another part of me dies when I learn someone is "real concerned about the immigrant problem."

And just like security theater at the airport, the only people you end up inconveniencing with this kind of police-state bullshit are honest folk.
posted by maxwelton at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Canada gave us Shatner. For that alone, Canada, I stand on guard for thee.
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:31 PM on March 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


God, the U.S. needs to get rid of it's rude border guards and customs officials. What is the benefit in having people's interactions with this country marred by power-tripping assholes?

It seems like it would be easy to fix, just send a bunch of people over the boarder/through customs undercover and if they get treated rudely fire the person who did so.
posted by delmoi at 5:32 PM on March 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


The current issue of Yankee Magazine (March/April 2009) has an article by Vermont's much beloved Edie Clark on the current state of the former "friendliest border in the world" ... that between the U.S.A. and Canada.

Lest we forget -- Yankee Classic: US/Canadian Border Crossings 25 Years Ago.
posted by ericb at 5:38 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fortunato is hoping that, if U.S. border guards can't say please, they might at least say sorry.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:41 PM on March 7, 2009


Canada gave us Shatner. For that alone, Canada, I stand on guard for thee.

It's a dirty secret, but I'm going to share it with my MeFi brothers and sisters. There is nothing a Canadian, young or old, is more proud of than William Shatner as Captain Kirk.

Unless it is, the Godess that is, Celine Dion.

World. You are welcome.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:43 PM on March 7, 2009


* by New Hampshire's much beloved Edie Clark*

Oh my, oh my, I bow in compliance to the Kings of New England, for I have erred. New Hampshire, not Vermont!!!
posted by ericb at 5:43 PM on March 7, 2009


This is a great post, and a subject of immense importance. If you can justify this behavior under a certain set of circumstances, circumstances can easily be altered such that you can justify such measures at major freeways, intersections, etc.
posted by baphomet at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2009


It's objectively true, though, that as mass-market pisswater beer goes, the Canadian version is clearly better. Or I guess "less bad." But, yeah, that sort of beer has a reason for existence, and I'm glad someone's out there doing it kinda well.

2nded re Unibroue, though. That stuff is delicious and deadly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:49 PM on March 7, 2009


Canada also gave us the brilliant singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gino Vannelli.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 5:55 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Am I the only person who's never had a problem with US border patrol coming from Canada? Once, one of them asked me to roll down the rear driver's side window to prove that the panel wasn't packed with contraband. But he was nice enough. The last time through, the guy practically wanted to hug me because I was raised in Midcoast Maine and he was too.

Once in 1994, the Canadians decided to search my car, but they were polite and right to do it because it was a dying car, I had hippie hair and was crossing with a resident alien from the former Soviet Union. So personally I've gotten more guff from the Canadians, and seeing as how this is Metafilter, a personal anecdote is worth taking at face value and then forming an opinion based upon it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:06 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Right, because Canadians are heading south in droves in an effort to escape universal medicare, gay marriage rights, and drinkable beer.

Whatever, we got Obama, you got Harper and a new government every few months.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Maybe a "no-follow" option for posts is a relevant pony ;)
posted by a non e mouse at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2009


I have been on their "list" since I spent time in Afghanistan in mid-2001. Every single fucking time I go down to the States, no matter if by car or by plane, I am pulled aside (to put it mildly), interrogated, confined to a cell, and finally questioned by the FBI. The very first time this happened to me in early 2005, I was driving down to Buffalo with my mother and her friend to catch a flight onto San Fransisco.

"Get out of the car and put your hands behind your back!"

My mother, her friend, and I were welcomed to America by five INS officers.

"Ummmmmmm... what's this all about?"

"You're wanted on weapons charges, now move!"

For the next 8 hours, on and off, a 10 by 15 cell was to be my home. I was stripped of my shoes, my belt and anything else I was under the illusion was mine. Bathroom? Yeah, accompanied by two guards and don't I dare flush. Food? Regardless of the last time one has eaten, they don't have to feed you for eight more hours.

My only form of entertainment was observing my mother (who had been separated from her friend) through the small plexiglass of my cell. Was she pissed. Deja vu Iraq - me and a bunch of Muslims being interrogated by culturally insensitive officers asking ridiculous questions and making incredibly ignorant statements.

During my second finger printing session:

"The Canadians say he's okay."

"I don't care what the Canadians say."

Hmmmmm...

The FBI finally arrived and it was good cop, bad cop. What a fuckin' cliché. The parts I can remember were as follows:

"Do you have an alias?"

"No."

"What religion are you?"

"Agnostic."

"Xxxxxx, in America, you are free to practice any religion you like. What religion are you?"

"Agnostic, but my parents are Jewish."

"Why didn't you tell the INS officer you travelled to the Middle East earlier?"

"He asked me where I had been on my most recent travels."

"Don't get into semantics with us."

"Listen, you people complain when I give you long-winded answers and you complain when I'm brief. I can't win."

Bad cop finally breaks free from his muted trance, "The last three guys I interviewed, I made cry."

"I don't know what to say to that."

"Would you like some water? Would you like to go to the bathroom? Let's start again. This can be as easy or as difficult as you make it."

"Do you know the book, 'Arabic Script: Styles, Variants, and Calligraphic Adaptations'?"

"Nope."

"Did you write the book 'Arabic Script: Styles, Variants, and Calligraphic Adaptations'?"

"I don't know it, so how could I have written it?"

"Do you go by the name Xxxxx Xxxxx Xxxxx"

"No, but I have seen this name on the Internet. He's gotta be a lot older than me."

"Have you ever met anybody who dislikes the United States?"

"Yes."

"Did they try to recruit you or offer you any money?"

"No."

"Do you know Osama Bin Laden or any of his associates?"

"NO."

"Have you ever attended a terrorist training camp?"

"NO."

My favourite was, "What do you think about America?"

"Well... nobody's perfect."

"Are you surprised to be sitting here, Xxxxxx?" (they really liked to say my name).

"Well, yes. You people did the same thing in Iraq for three weeks, and then again in Toronto a year ago. I would think you'd have it all sorted by now."

For over an hour, not only did I have to endure their absurd questions, but I had to take them seriously.

Back to my cell for a couple more hours. Finally, the lock turned one last time.

"Get your stuff and follow us." *Oh you mean this stuff, you've dumped all over the floor outside my cell? Bastards.

More Q&A, but this time from a friendly/aware INS officer who took a liking to me. We went through the hundred or so standard questions, most of which, he answered 'NO' on my behalf. Then, he had to supplement with a bunch more specifics to my case. He helped me, so I helped him brainstorm new questions. I noticed an order taped to his desk - 'Anyone attempting to enter the United States from the following countries, x,y,z, require an interview'.

"So you guys totally profile here?"

"Ha. Yup, but we can't call it that."

What happened next was one of the strangest experiences. A British passport was brought into the office and passed around to several people, including myself. They asked me to take a look at it and try to determine if it was a fake. WTF?

"Well, the picture has no holograms over it and the print is almost see-through, but it was processed at the Embassy in Tehran, so..."

Next thing I knew, the man I had just seen in the photograph was grabbed from his car, handcuffed and escorted past me to a cell.

"Ummmm... I don't want this passport, here you go..."

My new friend and the FBI (who also took a liking to me in the end) wanted to forewarn me I wasn't getting in.

"Nobody who goes through what you have, gets in. There's no point for the supervisor to risk it. He can send you back and not think twice, but if he let's you in and something happens..."

Twenty minutes later, as if an intervention from Allah, they gave me a 16 day visa.
posted by gman at 6:13 PM on March 7, 2009 [133 favorites]


I'm 35 miles from the border, and avoid crossing it at all costs...it's just too much of pain... And, my activist wife is prone to get into yelling matches with anyone who works for the federal government (even though one son is an ex-marine and another works for the CIA)... There was one crossing at which I thought we would all get arrested....but the guard had the sense to let her talk and let us through...
posted by HuronBob at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2009


Speaking as an American, the only thing wrong with Canada is that I can't buy a Harvey Burger T-shirt. Canada is awesome.
posted by sciurus at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gino Vanelli is Canadian???
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:21 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wild horses could not drag him away.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:24 PM on March 7, 2009


Actually that's not true at all, he doesn't even live here anymore. But what that's got to do with the border, I'm not sure.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:28 PM on March 7, 2009


Canada gave us Shatner. For that alone, Canada, I stand on guard for thee.

I can't be sure if that's a thank you or a threat.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:37 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gino Vanelli is Canadian???

Based on my experience years ago listening to what cab drivers in Montreal play on their radios, yup. Canadian content, eh?
posted by gimonca at 6:38 PM on March 7, 2009


Hey, do you know how to get a bunch of drunken Canadians out of a swimming pool?











- "Excuse me, could you all please get out of the pool?"
posted by isopraxis at 6:49 PM on March 7, 2009 [39 favorites]


So, on this "undefended border" thing that you hear so much about -- are there places along the border where you basically just cross the street or go across a parking lot and wind up crossing the border? Like, check out this strip in between Washington State and B.C., where U.S. Interstate 5 crosses. I've never met anyone from one of these zones. It looks like you could just waltz across. I mean, I know most of North Dakota and Minnesota and other states have these huge unpopulated swaths were you could cross the border if you hiked for like a week, but I'm talking about suburban streets north of Seattle or Detroit and the like.
posted by Mid at 6:51 PM on March 7, 2009


It is really sad how the War on Terror keeps making the USA look like an ignorant asshole in new and different ways.

For shame, us. For shame.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:57 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe I saw a TV program years ago about a pub in the Maritimes that was half on U.S. soil, half on Canadian. But I don't know if that would still be around.
posted by orange swan at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2009


Gino Vanelli is Canadian???
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:21 PM on March 7 [+] [!]

Wild horses could not drag him away.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:24 PM on March 7 [+] [!]

Actually that's not true at all, he doesn't even live here anymore. But what that's got to do with the border, I'm not sure.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:28 PM on March 7 [+] [!]


He's been living in Portland, Oregon since 1990. When he's not living inside himself.
posted by orange swan at 7:07 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person who's never had a problem with US border patrol coming from Canada?

Nope. The worst we've ever gotten was a new and bored agent who wanted to chat with us about how K visas or conditional green cards worked.

There was one time we were crossing at the Rainbow Bridge and I was driving with biscotti, who is a Canadian person, and there were big signs 100% ID CHECK IN PROGRESS and so on, as we get to the agent and he asks "Nationality?" so I say "I'm US and sh" "Have a nice day."

Or this other time we were coming back before biscotti got her green card... we had all the required AP paperwork with us, but the guy said "ID" so we just gave him the ID. So he looks at her passport, at her picture in the passport, at her expired, single-use visa, back at her, back at the expired, single-use visa, and says "Have a nice day."

Or this other time we'd been shopping at Ikea, and we had our receipts and stuff, and the border agent looks into the back of the CRV at the pile of bookcases, sighs, and says "It's under $300, right?" and we agreed with his assessment, and he told us have a nice day.

On the other hand, the Canadians seem to give biscotti a fair amount of crap when she's going back.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:11 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Both the contrast and the ease of crossing back over to Canada always reminds me what a wonderful country I live in.
posted by gman at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2009


are there places along the border where you basically just cross the street or go across a parking lot and wind up crossing the border?

It's less than suburban, but yes. Meet Stanstead.
posted by CKmtl at 7:20 PM on March 7, 2009


Is that wall thing still a real possibility? I see no mention of anything about it in recent press accounts of Obama's visit to Ottawa.
posted by blucevalo at 7:31 PM on March 7, 2009


Obama's visit to Canada.
posted by gman at 7:37 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


gman, the thing that strikes me about your story isn't just the hassle and stress of having half a day of your life seized. It's that if they had to spend that long on you, especially after the previous encounters you mentioned, then we're in serious trouble not just from a civil rights standpoint but from an effective security standpoint. If after a long encounter in Iraq and another one in Toronto it still takes them eight hours to figure out if you're interesting, they're doing horribly with their communication and information systems, and while it sounds like they figured out you're a false positive and became friendly enough after that, who knows what spending that time with you took their focus off of.

This seems to me to be tied up with some of the arguments about habeas corpus and other civil rights. I've argued before that an unrestrained law enforcement policy has problems that go beyond civil rights and justice. Justice requires accuracy, and if for whatever reason you decide you can't be bothered to be scrupulous, efficient, and accountable about that, even if you're motivated by the purest ends, you're going to be less effective.

"Nobody who goes through what you have, gets in. There's no point for the supervisor to risk it. He can send you back and not think twice

This is a problem. A big one. I've got a theory that in order to keep enforcement honest and efficient, false positives should be watched as closely as other outcomes. Not necessarily as something that gets an agency or agent/officer into big trouble (unless there's serious abuse connected with it), because we know where that leads: once they'd marked you for any reason, they'd have incentives beyond the usual to make sure they found something to charge you with, as some corrupt places already do. What I'm talking about is something for whoever's doing oversight to watch just as a metric of effectiveness. I don't know what the numbers should be, but there should be some degree of fallout if any enforcement arm is spending a lot of time and attention on people who turns out to be basically harmless.
posted by weston at 7:49 PM on March 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


False positives also make the guards blasé about people who set off alarms.
posted by ryanrs at 8:00 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"A British Columbia man who asked a U.S. border guard to say please but instead received a face full of pepper spray is still waiting for an apology."

I suspect he's going to be waiting a long time.
posted by homunculus at 8:21 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is probably a dumb question, but is there a different border somewhere which is longer, but "defended?" Because I always hear it described as "the longest undefended border in the world" and wonder why the extra disclaimer is always included.
posted by ook at 8:24 PM on March 7, 2009


Speaking of the dangers lurking just above the American borders:

Boy and I finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I mentioned that I had Charlie and the Glass Elevator, if he wanted to read that sometime, and gave him a few of the high points of the story.

At dinner, we had the following exchange:

Me: So, you want to read one of your library books at story time?

Him: No, I want to read Charlie and the Glass Elevator.

Me: You do?

Him: Yeah! That's the one with the Vicious Canadians!

Me: Bwhahahahahahahahah!

Dad: What, what, what?!

Me: (wiping away the tears) I think you mean Vermicious Knids, bud.

Him: Yeah, them!
posted by dejah420 at 8:26 PM on March 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Hey Science! - what American's call "Canadian bacon" doesn't exist in Canada. That's ham. We have regular bacon and peameal/back bacon.
posted by mzanatta at 8:35 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, a non-US citizen who tries to enter the US tacitly agrees to a suspension of their civil rights -- at least for the duration of the border crossing.
posted by Jode at 8:35 PM on March 7, 2009


Vicious Canadians would be a bitchin' band name though.
posted by nola at 8:36 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here in Canada, bacon looks like bacon. It's when I go to the states that people start calling ham "Canadian bacon."
posted by autodidact at 8:40 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ook, Russia and Kazakhstan have a border close in size to the 49th parallel border. They are "friends" but I dunno if they are worried about protecting their backdoor as much as the US.
posted by saucysault at 8:42 PM on March 7, 2009


And I think the extra disclaimer is because they are both impressive claims but having both is like adding two plus two and getting five.
posted by saucysault at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2009


Point Roberts . Osoyoos Lake . Peach Arch Border Crossing . Etc.

They'd love to sell you the idea that the border can be sealed. The idea is just outright silly.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:01 PM on March 7, 2009


Jode, it's not just non-US citizens.

My last border crossing - I hand the guy a Missouri license, a notarized birth certificate from St. Louis and my US made truck has Missouri plates. He looks me in the eye and says, "Reason for entering the United States?" and I respond "Well, among other things, my boss is kind of expecting me to show up for work tomorrow."

And then it's the lightning round where he starts asking me about streets in and around St. Louis which is all well and good, but what happens if you from a city where the guy at the crossing doesn't know any trial pursuits questions about your home town.

And this was pre-9-11!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:03 PM on March 7, 2009


Cripes. Borked the links. Point Roberts. Osoyoos Lake.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:25 PM on March 7, 2009


I used to cross the border probably once a month, going from Montreal to New York (I'm a US citizen), and how I was treated at US Customs varied wildly; moreover, the way they treated Canadians was shameful. I would sort of think that, at a Quebec border crossing, you might want to have someone on hand who speaks French, or who at least doesn't react like they're looking at a two-headed monster if they see a black Francophone. I swear to God, every Greyhound coming down, any Francophone Haitian on the bus completely blows the mind of every border agent.
The last time I came down, with my brother, driving a UHaul packed with my worldly belongings, I was expecting to spend an hour at the border. However, I wasn't really sure where I was supposed to take the truck, and so we pulled into the "TRUCK" lane only to find that the border agent's little booth was a good 5 feet higher than our cab. Even then, I was expecting him to come down and rifle through all of my shit, but he didn't even have me open it up- as I guess I should have realized, he just didn't want to get out of his little cocoon. As we pulled out, my brother turned to me and said, "Man, we should have filled the back with hash, or illegal immigrants...or illegal immigrants, MADE OUT OF HASH."
posted by 235w103 at 10:04 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: If he really wanted to know if you were from St. Louis, he should have asked what high school you went to. That is the ultimate question in the Lou.
posted by schyler523 at 10:10 PM on March 7, 2009


OK, to address the "don't ask them to say please" part of the OP:

FTFA:
“I just said please,” Mr. Fortunato explained Thursday. “He said 'get out of the car or I spray you' and ... I thought he was just trying to scare me off or something and I was pepper sprayed from a foot or two away.”

So, Mr. Fortunato was ordered to get out of the car, with the warning that if he didn't comply, he would be pepper-sprayed.

And he refused to cooperate, choosing instead to make jokes.

When the police (of any type: city, military, FBI, Army personnel) give a civilian an order, and the civilian doesn't comply, force is usually the result. You may have the right to an attorney. You may be able to successfully sue afterwards for excessive force. But you are going to get pepper-sprayed, you idiot.

And, in this case, it was warranted. He was resisting a lawful search at the border.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:36 PM on March 7, 2009


As for Point Roberts, I knew a kid in high school who used to think it was great fun to pop across the border into the US at Point Roberts, then sneak back over into Canada again. He was the son of a cop no less.

Although, to be fair to the US authorities guarding Point Roberts, once you get there it's not like you can go anywhere else unless you already have a boat moored down there.
posted by barc0001 at 10:51 PM on March 7, 2009


No, paisley henosis, it doesn't make the USA look like an ingnorant asshole, it makes us behave like an ignorant asshole. Who knows...
posted by carping demon at 11:18 PM on March 7, 2009


Jode: Whether you're a non-US citizen or not, the border patrol argues that your civil rights don't really apply within 100 miles of the border. Yes, 100 miles, and it doesn't matter if you've crossed the border recently. They set up checkpoints pretty far inland sometimes. (Possibly looking for vampires.)
posted by hattifattener at 11:54 PM on March 7, 2009


You can't just casually link to a 2005 article about MeFi's hoder^ without mentioning that he remains held by Iranian authorities.

No, this is not moral equivalence commenting. It's just about hoder.
posted by dhartung at 12:04 AM on March 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Point Roberts: Probably the highest density of witness protection alumni in the USA.
posted by fingerbang at 12:34 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Relevant image from a 2006 post.

ook: some quick googling of border length suggests:

Canada-USA border length: 3,987mi (southern border) + 1,538mi (Alaskan border) = 5,525mi. It is the longest shared border between two countries, as well as the longest (theoretically) undefended border.

It gets a bit more vague if you consider only contiguous borders, as the Russia-Kazakhstan border is 4,253mi.

The country with the longest total border length is China, with 13,761mi, followed by Russia with 12,437mi
posted by nielm at 12:37 AM on March 8, 2009


I largely stopped going to the States around 2003 even though my future wife lived there. I have dark hair, big nose and tan easily. Not the least bit middle eastern but apparently to Michigan border patrol I am Osama bin Laden's brother.

I've had a US Marshal put their hand on their gun and ask my why I was nervous. "Because you have your hand on your gun" is apparently cracking wise.

I wonder what percentage of travelers now choose not to go? I would have been good for about 15 to 20 visits a year before the border assholery ramped up to intolerable levels (let's be honest - US border guards were always jerks. Now they are just bigger jerks and feel even more justified/terrified). That suggests an economic hit of around $1K to $2K usd just from me.
posted by srboisvert at 1:59 AM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the "information on Canadian citizens" link:
...Stewart Baker, assistant secretary of policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told him Canadians have "had a better deal than anybody else in terms of access to the United States and for that they've paid nothing."
This attitude that we're somehow doing people a favor (one that they should "pay" for) by letting them come here is bizarre. I really hope that Obama is going to send the demand for more information on Canadians to the cornfield, where it belongs.

Also, I happen to like those little ham slices that we who are south of the border call Canadian bacon.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:24 AM on March 8, 2009


I have a feeling that, deep down, the rest of the world wants us to wall ourselves off from them.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


My worst experience was coming back into the U.S. after visiting my dad in Canada when he was in the hospital with what appeared to be congestive heart failure. I knew that it might be the last time I saw him. As luck would have it he made it but his mind has been affected so while he knows me and recognizes me the wit and humour is usually gone. Many visits are him just staring.

I crossed the border and the lane I ended up in had two border guards. One guard was very much in charge, he was tall and thing with dirty blonde "Ken" of "Ken & Barbie" hair.

"How long was your visit?" he asked.
"One week." I replied.
"What was the purpose of your visit?"
"To visit my parents."
"Why did you visit your parents?"
"My dad's in the hospital."
"For what reason?"
"He has congestive heart failure."

Up to this point things had been a standard border Q&A, he was smug but I knew he'd be smug the first time I saw him.

I don't expect sympathy from a border guard, I assume they've heard all kinds of sad reasons for returning from Canada, all kinds of happy reasons and all kinds of questionable reasons. What I didn't expect was the Douchebag Ken Show.

He then followed up with "Are you bringing any alcohol, tobacco or firearms into the country?" to which I replied "No". This was followed up by a rapid-fire list of a variety of conceivable and inconceivable things to smuggle in including atomic, biological and chemical weapons. Some of the questions were repeated multiple times. Interspersed were questions I should answer "Yes" to. He was obviously trying to fluster me.

He then started making fun of my father's condition to see how I'd respond. Then he asked me how many illegals I was smuggling in. I was renting a Prius. He was smirking.

Finally he just dead pans "I hope your dad's ok. You can go."

Most of the border agents on either side have been respectful even if the eventual result would be secondary inspection.
posted by substrate at 6:45 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


PareidoliaticBoy, I'll see your Osoyoos Lake, and raise you a Lake of the Woods. And there's the whole issue of the Great Lakes as well.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:46 AM on March 8, 2009


I remember watching Micheal Moores documentary 'Bowling For Columbine' where he makes the interesting observation that Canadians have nearly the same rate of gun ownership as the states. So why the vast difference in gun crime between the two countries?

Both countries speak English, both have a racial mix of people from all over the world, so the difference in violence statistics between the two countries is rather puzzling.

To put this in some kind of context, England and Scotland are two different countries yet there is not the vast difference in violence statistics.

The only real difference I could find between the two countries, was the male circumcision rate, like the US 55% and Canada 12% circumcision rates.

Come to think of it cutting a piece off an eight day old males anatomy, is introducing him to violence at a very young age.

One of the arguments often heard is it is 'cleaner', well if you indulge in anal intercourse as a convenient form of birth control maybe.
posted by dollyknot at 6:47 AM on March 8, 2009


gman, the thing that strikes me about your story isn't just the hassle and stress of having half a day of your life seized. It's that if they had to spend that long on you, especially after the previous encounters you mentioned, then we're in serious trouble not just from a civil rights standpoint but from an effective security standpoint.

Totally. As I said above:

Every single fucking time I go down to the States, no matter if by car or by plane, I am pulled aside...

Since the incident I described, I have had this same fuckin' bull shit at least 10 more times, and each time, I ask them if they think I'd have been let go in Iraq after three weeks of their interrogation. Not kicked out of Iraq, LET GO and allowed to travel the country freely. This past December, I went so far as to tell them that perhaps if they didn't waste their resources on people like me, they could afford to upgrade the dilapidated offices at the Peace Bridge border. The fuckin' door to the secure area doesn't auto-shut like it's supposed to - they have to ask people to close it after themselves, the wallpaper is peeling everywhere, and best of all, the main 'US Customs and Border Protection' sign has been covered by a large 'Department of Homeland Security' ink jet printout.

Sometimes I meet really intelligent officers who have nothing good to say about what they forced to do to me, or what is going on their country. Other times, I sit thinking to myself, no matter how annoying this situation is for me, thank God I'm not the Muslims in the next room over. You should hear the tone they take. And the bigoted comments they make within ear shot. Makes me fuckin' cringe and understand how uncivilized our soicty really is.
posted by gman at 6:48 AM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think we might have to build that Mexi-Canadian overpass.
posted by orange swan at 6:56 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's Sunday morning and I'm not doin' much, so I'll tell another quick story about an encounter with the FBI. My time with the Americans is split between questioning by low level officers, supervisors, finger printing/retina scans, and finally my FBI interview. On a trip over last year, the FBI agent decided he wanted to play 'buddy buddy' with me. He took me outside for a walk as if we were old friends. And it would have looked that way to anybody passing by, as they are always in plainclothes. Actually, they all wear beige cargo pants and ball caps.

Right after flashing me his badge:

"Xxxx, I'm not here to interrogate you. I'm just interested in your travels. I went straight from school to my job, and I never had a chance to see the world. We're gonna let you in, this is just a formality."

"Oh yeah..."

"What are some of your favourite spots?"

"Lao, Pakistan, Sri Lanka..."

"Oh yeah? Why do you like Pakistan?"

*I'm thinking to myself - 'You cocksucker. You just honed in on the one country I listed off which may be of interest to you'.

"Good food, great people, not much tourism, amazing mountains, and it's cheap."

"Did you speak to anyone who didn't like America?"

"Yes."

"Did they give you anything?"

On, and on, and on. At one point, dude even had his arm over my shoulder while we walked.

THE TERRORIST HAVE WON.
posted by gman at 7:37 AM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am a white male who often travels to CDN. Often in a caravan of people in different cars going to vacation. I've seen families with cars full go right on through. Invariably I get pulled over at CDN customs (entering CDN). Here are the various circumstances
1. traveling alone with a car full of goods for the cabin
2. traveling alone with a completely empty car (I mean even the seats were removed)
3. traveling with a CDN citizen who claimed to be a photographer, but had no cameras with him (Brilliant eh.)

The best part is my friends parked across the street cheering on the inspector and requesting the anal probe.
posted by Gungho at 7:38 AM on March 8, 2009


So, on this "undefended border" thing that you hear so much about -- are there places along the border where you basically just cross the street or go across a parking lot and wind up crossing the border?

I lived 5 minutes away from the border in Southern BC, kind of North of Spokane, WA.
We would get drunk and float down the river on Inner Tubes and sometimes cross the border without realizing it. Of course, it was a small enough place that the local border guard knew all the locals by name. We would get a sort 'tsk tsk, you know you shouldn't do that!' lecture from him, but he was smiling all the while...
posted by mannequito at 7:55 AM on March 8, 2009


I thought the Toronto Maple Leaf's blueline was the world's longest undefended border.
posted by mazola at 8:00 AM on March 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Just as part of me dies when I learn someone is a "libertarian"

Do you have any parts left?
posted by xmutex at 8:08 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago I was at a work conference with a lot of people from both Canada and the US. In it, the head of an American travel tourism organization was giving a presentation on the state of business in the USA. He had cued up the usual PowerPoint presentation, and during his talk, many of the Canadians noticed a startling number of graphs showing the business for the last ten years which looked like the ones you see in New Yorker business cartoons: long jagged lines from upper left to lower right. As one might guess, travel and tourism everywhere took a slide after The Tragic Events Of, but in Canada it is now as good as or better than it was in 2000.

Ultimately one of the Canadians spoke up with the question on everyone's mind: Why is business declining continually in the States? I half-expected some vague, hedging answer, but the guy was refreshingly candid: "It is our foreign policy and the culture of fear. We tell Americans if they go anywhere they will get killed, and we make it nearly impossible for anyone to enter the country without at best extreme unpleasantness and at worst, risking indefinite imprisonment without charges, so of course no one wants to come here."

I am always struck by the short-sightedness of this approach. In the course of my lifetime, the US has sent huge numbers of manufacturing and customer service jobs overseas. The one thing you cannot outsource is tourism, so it will always make money. No matter what else happens, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon and Mt. Rushmore will stay where they are, and there will always be people who will pay money to come see them. Is it the best solution to make it as difficult as possible for people to give you their money?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:18 AM on March 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


We, South of the border, got really lucky. A bad neighbor can make your life a Holy Hell, but Canadians are perfect. They don't have loud obnoxious parties. They never "borrow" our tools and forget to give them back. They don't let their grass get too long, or put a bunch of junky old cars up on cinderblocks in the drive, or leave their trash strewn about when the garbage can gets knocked over by hungry raccoons. They don't take pot shots at our pets with their BB guns and they don't hassle our teenage girls with lascivious come-ons. They always buy our girl scout cookies and when we are not at home, they accept our packages from UPS and bring them right over when we get back. They water our plants when we are on vacation. They don't bore us with long pointless stories about themselves. They never use their binoculars to spy on us. When our dog gets off the leash and runs into their garden and steps on all their daffodils, they wave off our apologies with a smile of understanding. They don't rev their motorcycles at 2:00 am or mow the lawn on Sunday mornings at 7:00 am. They are polite, considerate, quiet and charming and we really ought to send over a plate of home baked cookies and a note to let them know that we could not ask for better neighbors.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:32 AM on March 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


They don't let their grass get too long...

We just let it get too good.
posted by gman at 8:34 AM on March 8, 2009


dollyknow, you might want to read a neat little book called Fire and Ice by a Canadian social researcher named Michael Adams. The different circumcision rates are just a small part of the differences between the two countries. The bigger one is American deference to power and Canadian's indifference to religion.
gman, I've really cut down to my visits to the States because I hate the arrogant "You're just trying to sneak into the States because everyone wants to live the USofA" that I get each time. Why the heck do you keep going when you know you will lose half a day? Or that you might get pepper-sprayed?
posted by saucysault at 8:42 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


WOOO! Buffalo Meetup! Gman- you comin?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:43 AM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


They are polite, considerate, quiet and charming and we really ought to send over a plate of home baked cookies and a note to let them know that we could not ask for better neighbors.

Instead, we are demanding that they share more details of their personal lives, including their medical histories and bank account numbers. Why are we such bad neighbors?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:47 AM on March 8, 2009


Yeah! I'll just cross a day early. And don't mind the out of place werido sitting alone at the table beside us.

*If anyone is questioning why I would relay these stories in a public forum, everything I've stated here is known by "them". In fact, some of it has been published. They usually go over what occurred in previous 'sessions' with me. And they always ask me questions they have answers for to see if I deviate from my prior interview statements.

I believe in freedom of speech and I will not live in fear.
posted by gman at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


This article gives a bit more context re: the pepper-spraying. The posted article makes it seem like he was sprayed immediately after asking the officer to say please, but it looks like he kept refusing to comply after being told to turn off the car at least three times. He also seems to have had a (perhaps understandable) bit of a chip on his shoulder re: politeness/border agents. That said, though, the whole thing could still have been avoided with a little cheap courtesy on the custom agent's end.
posted by the other side at 9:01 AM on March 8, 2009


So would it be bad form to mention here that I routinely and frequently cross the border with never a spot of trouble? That I find US immigration competent and fair? And yeah they're trying to trip you up with bizarre lines of questioning, outside of mindreading I'm not sure what other tools they should employ to determine your intentions while in the states.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:01 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never had a problem with border crossings either, probably because I'm white, female, middle-class and in general look like a Campbell's Soup Kid. It disturbs me no end that someone who doesn't meet some official criteria for what constitutes an innocuous "look" would be repeatedly hassled, or, in extreme cases such as Maher Arar's, shipped off to Sryia for months of torture. It's both ineffective and a violation of individual rights. And it's all the more disturbing because many of the people who look innocuous and who don't get hassled refuse to believe it is a problem, which makes it that much harder to get anything done about it.
posted by orange swan at 9:14 AM on March 8, 2009


Of course, it was a small enough place that the local border guard knew all the locals by name.

Herein lies some of the problem. After 9/11 the local border guards often got moved, and the more gung-ho macho guards moved in. The paranoid conspiracy theorist in me thinks that they deliberately moved the most rude redneck guards to the most blue states, but who knows.

But seriously - for a long time, I am guessing the border guard at Beebe Plain VT (left side of the street, right side is Quebec) probably knew everyone, knew the local police and fire departments on both sides of the border, and probably went out bowling once a week with the Canadian border guards.

Now it is just as likely that the border guard was just transferred from guarding El Paso Juarez and has a "take no prisoners, don't fuck with me" attitude.
posted by xetere at 10:07 AM on March 8, 2009


I can recall a happier time, maybe 25 years ago where our whole softball team would pile into 3 cars, cross into Buffalo and gorge ourselves on Stroh's and wings at a place called "Pete's". Now, not so much.

My wife and I haven't had problems crossing from Canada into the US because, well, if there was ever a racial/ethnic profile for "vanilla", we're it. Our last land crossing was in 2003, crossing from New Brunswick into Maine. Three questions, and "Have uh nas dah" and we were across in 30 seconds. But we sympathize with those who've been unfairly hassled, going in either direction.

We do understand that the US needs to have visibly thorough and effective border security, but the surly junk-yard dog act seems pointless and inefficient. Especially for cases where the person has been previously screened and everything was shown to be all in order. What's the point of keeping records if the agents ignore them?

There is of course the NEXUS card thing. Give up some privacy, get to use the express lane. O brave new world...

Have any MeFites obtained and used a NEXUS card? Does it make things go faster?
posted by Artful Codger at 10:28 AM on March 8, 2009


I've never had a problem with border crossings either, probably because I'm white, female, middle-class and in general look like a Campbell's Soup Kid.

Pretty much the opposite of gman. He's even got pictures taken in muslin countries on his web page!
posted by lukemeister at 10:32 AM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh how times have changed. I used to go to Winnipeg for the occasional weekend drunk in the late '80s/early '90s and the U.S. customs station (Pembina ND) was rarely even staffed and when it was the agents were really cool, the Canadian side was a whole different story. The Customs Canada guys were without fail pushy and rude and there were always a string of cars pulled over for searches. Once you got past the customs station everyone was very nice and even said "eh" once in a while so it was all good.
posted by MikeMc at 10:42 AM on March 8, 2009


I have a NEXUS pass, and it's the best thing since Youtube cat videos. Inane doesn't even begin to start to describe the questioning at the interview; Why'd you go to China? To eat dimsum. Why'd you go to Vietnam? Pho. You like foreign foods? Uhhh...is there a right answer to this question?

Nothing makes me as happy as zipping by the hour long wait at the Peace Arch crossing
posted by Keith Talent at 11:40 AM on March 8, 2009


2nding the NEXUS pass. It returns the border crossing to what it was years ago. I don't even get asked any questions anymore. That having been said, you do give up a lot of info in order to get it. But still, if you like to cross, NEXUS = awesome.
posted by Salmonberry at 12:19 PM on March 8, 2009


But we don't think bacon means what you think it means.

I promise you, "bacon" really does mean those strips of mostly-fat slices from the side of the pig. That "back bacon" stuff we sell? It might be marketed as a special sort of bacon, but we all know it isn't real bacon. That said, it fits nicely on eggers and isn't nearly as unhealthy for ya. Plus it can be pretty tasty in its own way.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:20 PM on March 8, 2009


I live relatively near Osooyoos lake. I suggest that smuggling via lake would be much, much harder than smuggling via land. The lake is narrow and not overly deep. It is undoubtedly choc-a-bloc with sensors and cameras.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:46 PM on March 8, 2009


it looks like he kept refusing to comply after being told to turn off the car at least three times. He also seems to have had a (perhaps understandable) bit of a chip on his shoulder re: politeness/border agents. That said, though, the whole thing could still have been avoided with a little cheap courtesy on the custom agent's end.

It's all about face. Apparently US border guards hate losing face even more than an old Samuri. And the guy in the car had the same mindset. Douchebags, both of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:53 PM on March 8, 2009


five fresh fish: "I suggest that smuggling via lake would be much, much harder than smuggling via land."

Maybe not in some lakes, where it seems national security is on the honor system.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:31 PM on March 8, 2009


"This page is private. Oops! You don't have permission to view this page."

Please?
posted by stinkycheese at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2009


I used to fly back and forth a lot when in the process of moving from NYC to Toronto, getting landed, job interviews, moving stuff etc. The first few times we had to deal with the land borders instead was an enormous shock. The land guys are so much dumber, more belligerent, less informed and more inclined to waste your time than those at the airport it's wild. My husband is Bangladeshi and I'm Irish - when we would tell the US border people we were moving from the US they would take so much offense you wouldn't believe and they certainly enjoyed getting a real-life Muslim to play with.

We'll never drive to the US again, to be honest, no matter how many Bills tickets I'm offered or what sort of deals the stores and airports down there have. As mentioned by others above, that's a few thousand I'll spend in Canuck stores and hotels instead.
posted by jamesonandwater at 4:02 PM on March 8, 2009


stinkycheesePoster: ""This page is private. Oops! You don't have permission to view this page."

Please?
"

Who, me? If so, try this instead.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:16 PM on March 8, 2009


Thanks, yeah, I wasn't able to see that before. Pretty funny.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:21 PM on March 8, 2009


Of course, it was a small enough place that the local border guard knew all the locals by name.

Herein lies some of the problem. After 9/11 the local border guards often got moved, and the more gung-ho macho guards moved in.


This, uh, was after 9/11.
posted by mannequito at 5:06 AM on March 9, 2009


want another reason for the recession? Plenty of Canadians are forgoing crossing the border to buy goods. I suspect he same may be true for Mexicans
posted by edgeways at 6:43 AM on March 9, 2009


Gee, it only took them seven years to address some of the problems inherent to our relatively open border with Canada. How comforting.

I think my favorite story about border crossing stupidity since 9/11 is this one: on April 25, 2005, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what looked like blood. He claimed to be an assassin who had killed more than 700 people.

U.S. customs agents detained him for 2 hours, confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted him. Then they let him into the United States, without bothering to inform the Maine police that he might be a person of interest.

Why? According to one agent, no one asked them to detain Despres. Federal law says a US citizen (either by birth or naturalization) looking to enter the US cannot be detained indefinitely without just cause.

Despres was later extradited for murder (go figure), and was convicted in 2008. Wikipedia has more.
posted by zarq at 9:08 AM on March 9, 2009


I just wish the whole process was a little more professional and open-handed. It should be clearly posted that by waiting in line to enter the US you agree to accept rudeness, invasive examinations, forfeiture of goods, and undefined periods of delay or detention without comment or protest; punitive actions for non-compliance (or even reluctance) to be dispensed at the discretion of employees.
posted by Jode at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2009


suburban streets north of Seattle or Detroit and the like.

The urban streets north of Detroit are in the US. The urban streets south of Detroit are in Canada.

Nitpicking aside, while I've run into the occasional rude Canadian female border agent, I've got 44 years of bad stories about US agents. These include being hassled for going to the library (I did 20+ hours of observation in a Canadian library when I was in library school, as a class assignment), one guard insisting that Jacobson's was in Windsor (Jacobson's is a now-defunct chain that had stores in Michigan and Florida), and being questioned for over an hour, while cars piled up behind me, because, as far as I can tell, the agent didn't believe that the people in my car were my friends.

I'm white, look straight, am incurably polite to people who can lock me up and never lip off to border agents. If they are treating me like crap, I cringe when I think of how they must be treating Canadians, Muslims, people with melatonin-enhanced skin and those who get snarky when nervous.
posted by QIbHom at 10:47 AM on March 9, 2009


Well, if that ain't fucked up. I never knew.
posted by gman at 12:55 PM on March 9, 2009


Federal law says a US citizen (either by birth or naturalization) looking to enter the US cannot be detained indefinitely without just cause.

This is a feature, not a bug.
posted by oaf at 6:19 PM on March 9, 2009


Speaking of south of Detroit, the southern-most part of Canada is at a latitude just south of the Oregon-California border. More than half of the USA is north of the south part of Canada.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:08 PM on March 9, 2009


0 Avenue, posted way above, has lots 'n' lots of cameras along it. You may not see them (look way up - they're on top of power poles, etc.) but they're there.

I've been crossing the border between BC and Washington for 10 years. The first year the mister and I were still dating and I crossed it almost weekly. I, or we, still cross it several times a year.

I've been pulled over four times; twice going into the US and twice going into Canada. One US time was just routine, the second time was because I had a bunch of dog food in a container with no way to prove it didn't have beef in it (it was lamb and rice, I swear!).

The first time I went to Canada I was pulled out of the line. They didn't like that I was meeting my internet boyfriend and didn't have a job; fair enough. I was given a two week visa. The second time was a year later when I moved in with my now husband. I had a U-Haul full of stuff and knew it was going to happen.

I'm white, female and look like I wouldn't say shit if I had a mouthful. I'm sure that had nothing to do with my ease of border crossing.
posted by deborah at 6:38 PM on March 11, 2009


« Older "He wore a black Cretan shirt, his clothing was in...  |  Why would an evolutionary biol... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments