I hadn’t been over the border to Canada in a while. I hadn’t been pulled over for a search at the border in I don’t know how long, if ever, though I’ve been asked to pop the trunk.
No longer is it a border patrol employee asking you to pop the trunk open and take a look-see while you sit there. I got a taste of the new-age, behind-steel-doors, strip-your-dignity search last week as my husband and I were on our way back from seeing Neil Young in concert. Yeah, I knew government had been sinking its fingernails into our skin, I long ago learned to roll with taking my shoes off at the airport, but I didn’t know they’d built whole garage structures just to make you feel shut out.
Often when we go to Montreal we take in some concert or another, but usually they’re bands no one’s heard of and somehow that does not trigger suspicion from border agents. When we went to see Franz Ferdinand, perhaps they thought we were having high-level meetings with the late Archduke of Austria, not grooving to a rock band. The average border agent has probably heard of Neil Young, though, and apparently that leads to the conclusion we must be drug users.
So my husband was told to pull off to the right and go inside the little office. We weren’t told that both of us should go inside, or for what purpose. Inside, we were told to take a seat. My husband was asked for the keys to the car. We were given a customs form to fill out where we declared we had bought nothing. Meanwhile, our car had been whisked into a garage, the door closed behind it. We sat and waited as if we were at the auto repair shop waiting for an oil change we didn’t ask for.
There’s nothing like clean living to make you not sweat about what they might or might not find, but I couldn’t help being put off by the fact that they didn’t tell us what was going on and that they simply took command of our car and our belongings and left us waiting at their mercy. It felt a little bit like being in the airport in Algiers.
After about 20 minutes, we were told we were all set. When we reached our destination, we found that stuff we’d had in the back seat was now in the trunk. As it turns out it was not a big deal, but I had a reason for putting the coat I was going to wear in the back seat, where it would be warm when I needed it, and I had a reason for putting the bottle of water in the back seat, where I would be able to reach it if I was thirsty. Perhaps the border agents had reasons for putting those things in the trunk instead, but I’m not privy to them.
I don’t mind being singled out for a search. I’m not one of those people who thinks just because I don’t look like a terrorist or a drug runner doesn’t mean I’m not one. What I think I minded was the degree to which the government disregarded us. The attitude that we didn’t need to know what they’re doing. That it doesn’t matter what they do with our stuff. That they take the car behind closed doors and do whatever they please.
- Terri Hallenbeck