Monday, September 25, 2017

Do Not Empower US Border Guards on Canadian Soil

As is so often the case, an important policy change that could affect Canadians in a direct and personal way has been given scant coverage – and negligible criticism – in the news media.

One would hope that a ceding of national sovereignty and the subjecting of Canadian citizens to potential arrest and physical violation by a foreign power operating within our borders would engender some pushback – or at least discussion – but here we are.

In this case, the House of Commons passed bill C-23 in June, the wretched thing now resides in the Senate, and there is a good chance you wouldn’t know that’s bad news until it’s too late.

In brief, this leprous legislation would give American border guards at Canadian airports the power to detain and even strip-search travelers attempting to enter the United States. Moreover, it removes the right of travelers to walk away from US border preclearance if they choose.

One of the few Canadian outlets to cover this issue, the Globe and Mail, has provided a self-parodying object lesson in getting things wrong, editorializing that C-23 “should be a no-brainer” and “the sooner this bill becomes law, the better.”

This bespeaks a misunderstanding of the differences in the exercise of power between Canada and the United States.

As a citizen of both countries, with affection for each and reasonable literacy in their respective cultures, please allow me to assure my fellow Canadians: This is one facet of American life you do not want on your soil.

The exchange of common humanity for a police-like uniform, the clipped, minatory “sir’s” and “ma’am’s” that accompany petty authority, and a repulsive eagerness to punish or imprison – these are all part of Americans’ routine interactions with their myriad constabularies.

The “Land of the Free” holds more prisoners than any other nation on earth. This is a little-known but undeniable fact, belying America’s incessant banging on about its “liberty.”

Canadians are generally unaware of this unpleasant reality until they find themselves on the business end of it – often at the US border.

There are many reasons for America’s penchant for imprisonment – from its misbegotten “war on drugs” to the viral spread of punishable acts defined by unelected agencies – but none is more potent than its cultural craving for authority and demand for obeisance.

Already, US border officials at Canadian airports behave as though they have the power to search and detain – relying on travelers’ ignorance of their actual authority.

They go so far as to creep around Canadian terminals in plain clothes, identifying and harassing unsuspecting passengers.

A female acquaintance of mine was recently put upon by one such operative in a Toronto airport bar, after she had cleared US customs.

He flashed a badge and demanded she come with him. Canadian as she is, she obliged. She was hustled into a windowless room where several US officers questioned and accused her for hours, reducing her to tears and causing her to miss her flight.

Now, could you imagine those jokers with legitimate power to detain and strip-search, ratified by the Canadian government?

The young lady in question is a pleasant, law-abiding person who was meeting friends for a shopping weekend in New York. Attractive and alone, she was vulnerable prey for jumped-up nasties with little else to do.

As an American guard at the Canadian border recently admitted to me, “At the southern border, we actually do stuff; up here, we just pretend to do stuff.”

And there it is – Canada is about to hand police powers to otherwise indolent foreign agents who, by culture and necessity, will be eager to exercise their new authority upon the nearest soft target: you.

This change has been in the works since 2015, providing numerous, bi-partisan targets of ire.

Blame it on Stephen Harper’s authoritarian streak, or Barack Obama’s advancement of the administrative state, or Donald Trump’s inherent evil, or Justin Trudeau being Justin Trudeau – whatever it takes to get your motor running. Just don’t let this happen.

Theo Caldwell is a dual American-Canadian citizen. Contact him at