Canadian border guards want to be sure that foreign journalists don't criticise Vancouver Olympics

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's As It Happens radio show covers the story of Amy Goodman's recent' border crossing into Canada. Goodman -- host of the US public radio show Democracy Now! -- was coming to Canada to give a speech at a library, and Canadian border guards questioned her intensely about the subject of her talk, even reading her notes for her speech. They were fishing for something, but Goodman couldn't figure out what, until the guards asked her outright whether she was planning on talking about the upcoming Canadian Olympic Games. When she assured them that she hadn't been, they eventually released her (it had been a 75 minute detention) but stamped a control-order in her passport giving her only 24 hours' stay in Canada.

AMY GOODMAN -- As It Happens

WMV link

(Thanks, Bill!)


  1. I crossed the border with Canada a few times this summer for vacation. It ranged from far more intense than necessary to being done over the phone. When friends and I traveled in with a car they were rude even as we basically threw up our hands and welcomed them to check everything. Best quote of that experience was this:

    Boarder guard: “Do you have anything fun in the car?”
    Friend’s honest answer: “A deck of cards.”

  2. Traveling is quite a hobby of mine… and of all the places I have been, the Canadian border is the one where I was treated the worst. I was asked to pull over in my car, detained, searched and questioned why I was going to vacation in Canada…

    Ive been to Canada multiple times since and have been treated excellently ever since. I dont know what was up with that one instance, but the only thing missing was a rectal exam.

  3. @lovemycoffeehouse “I feel a small sense of relief knowing Canadian border guards are doing their jobs. ”

    LOL, are you serious? It’s the job of border guards to question whether reporters are going to talk about the Olympics? That’s what is keeping your vast and beautiful country safe? Sounds like you’ve got more problems than ever if their only concern is whether or not to keep out those who, god forbid, say something unkind. Last I checked you have freedom of speech and the press up there as well.

  4. I was at Amy’s talk in Victoria, as the ridiculous 24 hour time limit ticked down… and I haven’t listened to the AIH link, but her story was unbelievable. She was unaware of a lot of the “security zone” BS that is going up around the region, and genuinely did not intend to touch on the Olympics in her talks. I’m sure her 75 minute detention piqued her interest, though.

    But what it comes down to is just another salvo in the ongoing war against journalism being waged by corporate/military interests- from her and others’ detention at the RNC, journalists targeted in the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad, and any street action anywhere. If the truth is not coming from the streets then you’ll have to take the “truth” they give you from the skyboxes and “situation rooms.”

  5. I don’t know how many of the comments so far have been from Americans; as a Brit who has entered Canada both from the States and by flying from the UK, I’ve been treated very well by Canadian immigration; far better than by US immigration [stories are available!]. I wouldn’t approve of their behavior described here; but might there perhaps be some animus against Americans in particular?

  6. Canadian border police fucking suck. Worthless individuals. I went to Vancouver and was detained for 30 minutes while they searched my car. They said that I “didn’t have plans that were definite enough” and that was the reason they pulled me aside. Nobody wants to hurt Canada. Seriously.

    1. It’s not all smiles and sunshine going the other way across the border either as a Canadian visiting the U.S., especially these days.

      I’ve been treated like a criminal, mug shot, fingerprinted all over a misunderstanding about my wanting to attend a friend’s wedding in California. I was in the wedding party (as one of the groomsmen), but somehow the guards thought I was telling them I was the one getting married (which got their immigration hackles up… I remember when they used to help you with these matters instead of viewing you as a threat to national security). I got taken to a room and detained for hours. And by the time I figured out what they thought I was implying, it didn’t seem like anything I could say could clear up the misunderstanding. Eventually, I got turned away and missed the whole wedding.

  7. Because this has happened to her, it is only appropriate
    that we Canadians invite her to come to Victoria to
    speak about the Olympics, so that we can hear what what
    somebody apparently does not want us to hear about them,
    from her.

    It is truly an embarrassment that someone’s stay in
    Canada was limited due to a fear that they may speak
    about some particular subject matter, for which reason
    they have been unduly detained.

    In this case, the intention to cover up what she might
    say has clearly backfired, and now there is great
    curiosity, and also a major news story driving it,
    to hear her speak about those Olympics.

  8. Being a Canadian, I’m always quite proud about how friendly our people are towards both other Canadians and Tourists. We almost always use please and thank you, and just tend to be welcoming. However, somehow we managed to find the most bitter people to run our boarder patrols. It’s embarrassing.

    I live close enough to the boarder that I frequently travel to the US and I always find that the American boarder patrol will generally welcome you to their country. They basically say, “Hey, welcome to our country. Spend some money!” Then when coming back to Canada, where I am a citizen the boarder patrol are just angry with me for leaving or something. If this was a one off it would be fine, but it seems to happen every time I try to re-enter Canada.

    So to all the Americans planning on visiting Canada, I would like to apologize in advance for the treatment at the border. Believe me, the rest of Canada is happy to see you.

  9. Wait, detaining people and grilling them with questions for long periods of time does not provide security in itself. Detention and questioning is a tool to provide security when used properly and for the right reasons.

    And, what nobody has pointed out yet and what the first poster completely misunderstands is that using our border guards to hamper free speech and protect corporate interests is very much not a national security issue, it is something much closer to corruption.

    What security threat is posed by a journalist talking about the Olympics? None, it is a financial threat to interested parties. Who is instructing our border guards to harass journalists, why is that even possible? Oh, canada.


  10. Was she a physical threat to the nation of Canada? No. Then get out of her way. What she was planning on talking about is no business of the border guard. In either direction. How did this ‘protect’ Canada in the least?

  11. Hey! What ever happened to globalization?

    Oh, right, that’s only for goods, not people.

    What a rip-off.

    1. Globalization is not for goods either. It is for labor, ie getting good manufactured or service outsourced for cheap in countries that don’t really have good worker protection and whatnot.

  12. I spent years traveling all over the world. The worst border I’ve ever crossed? Going into Canada.

    The kicker is… I’m Canadian.

    So this story doesn’t really surprise me. The border guards are essentially grade 10 dropouts on a power trip. And now they have guns.

    [Second worst is the US…]

  13. My experience with the the Canadian customs guards in airports has always been very good. I guess they figure you’ve not got much illegal stuff as you’re already been assholed by airport security. I’ve always come back with 3-4 times over the exemption limit, been honest about it, and if I said it was only for myself and not given away they’d just let me pass through.

    The land guards however, are a completely different story. Because it’s often significantly cheaper, if you’re even a LITTLE over the limit with alcohol and even if you have been away awhile they nail you to the wall. They often search through your car and belongings. It’s a terrible experience.

  14. I’ve generally had good experiences with Canadian border guards, but I suspect that’s because I’m canadian.

    What I’d like to know is who had this bright idea? Is this some overzealous & misguided guards, or does someone higher up actually believe that you can get anything but bad press from interfering with the free press?

  15. I have never had a good experience with the Canadian border guards. I am an American that married a Canadian, and taking my husband across to the US side is always a piece of cake. The trip home, however, is always this huge hassle, and we BOTH get grilled on just the stupidest shit. Even my husband, a Canadian citizen, is asked personal questions about his job and how long he’s known me, like they could just refuse him entry as well.

  16. Sounds like the Vancouver Olympics are ramping up to be a royal fustercluck, following in the fine tradition of things governments have tried to shut people up about.

  17. I was detained at the Canadian border for 4 hours in 2007. My girlfriend actually peed herself because we were not allowed to use a bathroom. In the end we were refused entry after Canadian Customs searched my laptop and told me I was carrying “anti-Canadian literature” on it. I have no clue what that meant and they never did specify which documents they were talking about. The only docs on my laptop besides personal emails were PDFs of scientific papers. That’s it.

    Personally, I got the very distinct feeling at the time that they didn’t like the fact that we were an interracial (black/white) couple.

  18. They’ve gotten extra- special paranoid about pretty much everything Olympics related. They seem so certain there’s going to be some form of terrorist attack you almost think they have information they haven’t released to the public. Also, they’ve passed laws allowing police to enter homes without a warrant to take down, say, window posters that say “fuck the Olympics”. Something many people are inclined to do in part because of the rather excessive seeming planned road closures and such. As well there’s a segment who are upset about government money being spent on a sporting event rather than solving the homeless issue (ignoring the political reality that the money would have been spent on nearly anything but the homeless issue, Olympics or no)

    Anyway, it’s a touchy subject to say the least and now it seems they got Immigration and Border Control involved. lovely.

  19. I’ll take Canadian border guards over US any day. I’ve had excellent experiences with Canadian border guards. We’d forgotten some ID for our daughter, and the guard actually helped us find a solution (“Do you have an insurance card with her name on it maybe?”) Coming back into the US was another matter. The guy there was a powerfreak asshole.

  20. A person shouldn’t have to prove they are ideologicically in line with the governing party before they can enter Canada.

    I don’t think the issue is “Is Canadian border security good or bad” or “is Canadian border security better or worse than American border security”.

    I think the issue is that the Canadian federal governement seems to have given orders to border guards to detain, search, and prevent anyone from speaking about the Olympics.

    Political intervention in any journalism or dialogue isn’t the way democrarcies operate. Political suppression of discussion of the *Olympics* works against the spirit of democracy *and* the olympics.

    1. Yeah, if they spend an hour searching your car for contraband, you can say that’s excessive, but at least that’s supposed to be in their job description.

      That’s a different issue from the worrisome question of would they turn someone away because of the topic of her speech.

  21. Although extremely unwise, it would be funny if she had stated a number Olympics pet peeves.

    Border Guard: Are you talking about the 2010 Olympics?

    Amy Goodman: No

    BG: So you’re not going to criticize the Olympics?

    AG: What? Oh, uh, there’s too many sports in it, steroids, it takes a backseat to professional sports, professional athletes ruin the spirit of it, it’s just about nationalism and advertising… I’m not getting in, am I?

    BG: I’m gonna go with “no”

    Maybe Peter Mansbridge will do a one-on-one interview with her, and then he’ll convene his discussion panel to talk about it, and then Rex Murphy will give us his thoughts. That’d be awesome, and not impossible as CTV has the olympics this year. *crosses fingers*

  22. My cousin got married to a Canadian national in Seattle. His parents came down from Canada for the nuptials and had no problem getting their expensive BBQ into the States. They had a very large one that was needed for the reception. When they traveled back to Canada, the BBQ was seized and never given back, even though it was purchased in Canada by Canadian citizens. This was ten years ago.

    One of the anti-bot captions for my anonymous post is “reporters”.

  23. Last month a colleague and I flew into Calgary, at the invitation of a Calgary company, to give a workshop at a high school in central Alberta.

    Fortunately we had been warned that Canadian customs could be a hindrance for business travelers, so our hosts supplied a letter welcoming us and our unique skills to Canada.

    Both of us had separate customs officials. Mine was merely rude, rolling her eyes when I told her my business reason for visiting. My partner’s official let out a derisive snort and the comment “Well, that’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money.” (Well, no, we were paid by a private company.)

    Then onto two different immigration officials, whose interviews were longer. Mine was slightly less rude than the customs agent, but still demanded a complete explanation and asked to see any proof I had. Good thing for the letter, because I couldn’t tell if my answers to her random questions were in any way satisfying.

    Protection is good, but officious and suspicious gatekeepers leave a bad first impression. (And, yes, I’m certain that visitors to the US face a much more serious difficulties.) Fortunately every single Canadian I met after the border made the trip memorable and fun.

  24. When I used to go to Canada as a kid, with my parents in the 70s/80s, there was no problem getting in. I remember driving up to the border crossing and the Canadian guard would literally not even let cars stop–they would just give us a little wave like a flagger and we’d drive right in.

  25. I used to travel to Canada frequently. It was usually an average border crossing experience. One time flying into Montreal however I was detained for two hours and lectured about the evils of WalMart for no apparent reason.

    For the most part border guards in any country are imbeciles on power trips.

  26. As the one who sent this in, I feel I should add that my experiences at the border between Seattle and Vancouver have been uneventful in both directions, and yes, my answers to the questions have sometimes been potentially problematic (I’m speaking about pathogens at a biomedical conference, officer.) However, the Olympics make municipalities go insane. I’m so glad Chicago didn’t get the Olympics. I’m ready to start anti-lobbying to keep the Olympics from coming to the USA again.

  27. Being an American, married to a Canadian, having dealt with immigration all over the world – the Canadian guards are nicer and more logical than others I’ve encountered. Usually I’m more nervous on how I’ll be treated going back into my own country than I am going into Canada.

    They should not have grilled her about what she was going to say. That said – I’m wondering what tipped the guard off that she might be outspoken against things like Olympics? Was her file been flagged by the Bush administration as a potential threat to the US so that when she has to go through secondary screening when she crosses the border?

  28. My company has several customers in Canada. Our technical service people have been harassed by Canadian immigration several times. Usually get questions about why a Canadian can’t do the job — reason: it’s our equipment, your Canadian company pays to have the people who built it service it. Most recently had a service person refused entry until he could get a copy of the purchase order from the customer, something the service person wouldn’t carry because it has confidential pricing info on it. Absolutely no security reason for the request, they could have just called our company and asked for confirmation.

  29. I’m Canadian. The last three times I crossed into the US to visit family I was detained for periods of up to two hours.

    The guards do an intsensive interrogation, search my luggage, search the clothes I’m wearing and question me on every article I’m carrying. Once I was lead into a prison cell for a hour while they disappeared with my passport and wallet.

    I’m always free to go on my way afterwards, but never with any explanation.

    What gives?

  30. I was going to speak about a few experiences with Canaddian guards compared to USA guards but then I realized that we are really fooling ourselves, I mean they are guards. People who have dedcided that “yes I want to do this job that allows me, no makes me suspcious of of people”. And I believe it comes as no surprise that they do the bidding of the political will of the time and are not some judicial entity free of the moores of the cutlure.

  31. As someone who grew up in Detroit, this is heartbreaking. For 20 years the Detroit/Windsor border was, well, WHAT border?

    There were no papers, no requirements of any kind. Windsor was the other half of the city where you wouldn’t get shot. We’d go over there maybe 3 days a week, and knew ever restaurant, every shop, and most of the bars. Canadian and US currency were always both in your pocket, and while we had many a joke about the devalued Canadian currency, we always accepted it at face value.

    The Freedom Festival pretty much spelled it out. Two countries, one community. Canadians were friends and family, like us minus some of the sharp edges. Heck I’ve never even -seen- Niagra Falls from the American side, and I’ve been there 10 times! My family even used to own land in Canada – before they banned that. I guess that was a warning of things to come.

    Now… we haven’t gone over for years, and have no plans to ever again, because we don’t know what the risks are. I sure as heck don’t intend to expose my kids to that risk, and so they will never know Canada, and certainly won’t grow up thinking of it as someplace to trust. And no, I won’t take a Canadian quarter anymore, regardless of value.

    Honestly, I don’t know who Canada is anymore. It’s certainly not the people I grew up with.

    1. For some reason I just do not believe you. Maybe it’s the lack of citation. Maybe it’s the anonymous comment. Maybe it’s that I could find no evidence of what you say on my own.

      Maybe it’s just my bu******t detector.

      1. You can’t be serious. Your “bull***t detector” is way out of tune, homeboy. Take a look at any media from Vancouver regarding the 2010 olympics, mainstream or not, and you’ll find a story about corruption, about intimidation, and about gentrification.
        Try looking, you’ll like it.

  32. Actually this is a great controversy in Vancouver. Many private citizens have been approached and followed by the RCMP and legislation has been brought in that would allow the police to enter private property to remove protest signs or anything of the sort.

    This story seems less about the border process and more about an increase in security leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

    In fact any Vancouverite who posts here in this thread should do so Anonymously so that they will not be red flagged by authorities. I would like to think that was a crazy statement but it’s been proven in the news already that the RCMP are profiling.

  33. One thing most people don’t understand is that Canada and the rest of the world don’t have free speech rights as we understand them in the US. There are lots of prosecutions for thought crimes so they may be doing you a favor by keeping you out. The sole purpose of the absurdly named Canadian Human Rights Commission for instance is to make sure only government approved points of view are voiced.

  34. Obviously you Americans haven’t heard about the Canadian War On Tourism (CWOT, not to be confused with GWOT). You’re either with us or your with the Tourists.

  35. As a Canadian who works overseas and travels quite a bit, I never had any trouble with Canadian border officials until sometime after 9/11. In the years since, they seem to have become gratuitously authoritarian, moreso with each passing year.
    For example, when returning from a long absense overseas, i fully expect to be questioned on what i was doing out of the country. But they have since taken to asking me about plans WITHIN Canada. The country of my citizenship. There is no conceivable reason they should know this. Their only concern should be whether my passport is valid and if not, why not.
    This drives me nuts, but i am not sure how to respond. i assume i would be well within my rights to reply “none of your business”, but have never seen any mention of Canadian citizens’ rights vis-a-vis CBSA officials.
    anyone else have any ideas?

  36. Honestly, I don't know who Canada is anymore. It's certainly not the people I grew up with.

    Yeah, I know the feeling.

    I look at the U.S. and see them renditioning middle-eastern looking people to be tortured, running a gulag called Guantanamo, preventing people from flying because their name resembles one on a “no-fly list” which has no oversight, explanation, or appeals process.

    It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.

  37. I was in Vancouver for the Triathlon World Cup last year, and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed.

    They got many basic details about organization wrong (including the corny closing ceremony, that was more like a primary school’s end of term festival).

    It was so bad that one triathlon had to become a duathlon due to bad weather conditions, but the same day in the afternoon the weather was fine and would have allowed the competition, they simply didn’t have a plan B in place.

    Vancouverites were excellent hosts, people there are unusually chatty, but the town was let down by an amateurish organization.

    Maybe that is what is worrying the authorities, but boy, what a way to go about calming panicking consciences.

  38. Ran into this, and as this was a last-minute vacation anyway, thanked them for making my decision easy and turned around and spent 20000 dollars in New York’s beautiful countryside.

    Congrats, eh

  39. Maybe it is retaliation for the recent saber rattling from the Colbert Nation over restrictions of speed skaters not being able to practice on their ice.

  40. You can just see the wheels turning in the authoritarian mind: given instructions to protect the safety of the Olympics at all costs, this border guard sees someone he doesn’t like, clearly a rabble-rouser. But he doesn’t really have any instructions on what kind of ideology to keep out, so it’s *got* to be about the Olympics.

    Her lack of ideas about the Olympics is not what got her in such a hassle, it’s what finally forced the guard to “let her off with a warning”.

    Back before irony died, the Olympics used to be seen as a shiny example of how nations could compete nonviolently with each other. Now it’s just another sad reminder of what governments used to be able to do, before corporations took over.

  41. The few times I’ve crossed the border on my way to Vancouver, or arrived in Victoria by ferry, I’ve found the Canadian border officials, uh, gruff. They weren’t openly hostile, but never once did they smile, say “Welcome” or “Enjoy your stay” or anything similar. Being the first Canadian a tourist probably encounters, you’d think they’d want to, or be coached to, give a good first impression.

    I always enjoy my visits *after* the border crossing, though!

  42. Just thought I’d chime in and say that on 100% of the times I drove into Canada, the border guards were friendly and reasonable. Admittedly I only have one datum point, but still. They asked me and my friend what our plans were, we told them while they checked our passports, and then we were waved in. Didn’t even get a stamp on my passport or anything!

    PS: The Abbotsford airshow is FANTASTIC :]

  43. I read Denyse O’Leary about how Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant had all sorts of ‘interesting’ challenges from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It was a clear, free speech issue. I guess the rot may be spreading. Sigh.

    Am I an Ugly American if I reccomend the First Amendment for your consideration, northern neighbours?

  44. Am I an Ugly American if I reccomend the First Amendment for your consideration, northern neighbours?

    Ugly? Not especially… Judge of yourself by yourself: the Charter of Rights is included in our Constitution (see 2 (b) ), each province can have their own Declaration of Rights (like mine, Quebec, does) and Canada signed up the UN Declaration of Human Rights…

  45. A couple of things from a Canadian that does a lot of border hopping (and I’ll be down to the US again tomorrow morning for a meeting with our US office manager)…

    Border guards on either side are pretty similar.

    Sometimes they’re sour, or possibly their manager is riding on their ass, or they had a scare last week, and you start worrying about being shipped off to a third country for “stressful interrogation” (by either nation, I might add).

    And sometimes you feel like they’re just “phoning it in”. Guards are guards, the job attracts a couple of distinct personality types no matter the nation or specific thing they’re guarding.

    Secondly: No, we don’t have free speech rights in Canada. We have fairly-free-speech, but this is a nation with hate-crime legislation and some extremely fuzzy pornography legislation. It is illegal to bring all sorts of intellectual content over the border – and in practice, it’s very difficult to get certain kinds of legal content over the border as well.

    Unlike the US border officials, Canadian border officials are primarily concerned with taxable goods, and with any books you’re carrying.

    I’ve had the surreal experience of watching three border guards get very very excited over my big ass moving box of books and NOT because of the sword I had packed on top of the books.

    Hint: When you say “Fantasy novels” to border guards, they think “sexual fantasies” not “fireballs and elves”, and then they get very disappointed when it turns out you’re not smuggling a big pile of child porn into the country.

  46. Last time I went into Canada through Windsor [to win/lose some money at the casino], I was given the third degree at the border by some female guard asking what my purpose was for coming to Canada. Told her and she asked “anything else?”, I said “Depends, if I lose a lot I may just look around the city and then leave” You would have thought I had threatened to pee on the Canadian Flag. After about 10 minutes more of “doing her job”, she sat there just looking at me for two minutes not saying a thing then let me into Canada and told me to be out of the country in 24 hours. I figured she was just having a PMS day and let it go at that. Coming back in to the USA the border guard for the USA, was leaning back, arms crossed, you could tell he was bored silly, asked “Anything to declare?”, I said “other than winning some money at the casino, not a thing” He sat up and said “You WON money? Congrats!” then waved me through. Friends went to Niagra Falls to gamble and one of them has major medical problems that requires a lot of medicine. Canadian border guard asked them if they had any drugs and my friend said “Just prescription medicine for heart problems”. You would have thought he was trying to smuggle a years worth of cocaine into Canada by their reaction. They detained them for three hours, tore his car apart [literally took the seats out of the car, tore the lining out of his trunk, etc.], searched everything they were wearing or carrying. After they found nothing, they told them they could go into Canada. They left his car torn apart, did not put bother putting the seats back. After he was able to get the driver and passenger seats back in, he was so angry, he told the guards Canada could go “F” itself, turned around and spent the few thousand they would have spent IN Canada in the USA instead.

  47. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about the Canadian border in the last few years, but it does seem to be compounded by the Olympics

    I don’t know what it is about such events that makes people so arrogant

    i remember years ago, in midwestern USA the local big shot decided to have a ‘road race’ through our downtown metro – i lived in a downtown apartment at the time, inside the ‘race track’

    HOLY COW, we were treated like prison inmates!. I’m walking out of my apartment building to my car at 7.30 am with suit, tie and briefcase and i have some dumb ass security guard in my face yelling WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?!?!?. I wanted to deck the fascist a hole, he had to have seen that I LIVED THERE. I got basically the same crap day in day out every time I came and went for what seemed like forever, even if you had your ‘papers’ ready every time – everyone got the same treatment. It was a real ‘kafka’ like social degredation.

    Google ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’, it was an out of control experiment of what happens when you put an authority uniform on a pin head, how out of control they become

  48. Crossing into Canada at the New York/Canadian borders has become a nightmare since September 11th. The Canadian guards need lessons in manners as well as in common sense. The detentions appear to be random and without any merit. I was with a group of 30 people on a school bus heading to Montreal on a day trip. We were not staying overnight. We live only three hours from Montreal. Everybody else sailed through customs with no problem. I was detained for nearly an hour – which meant everybody else on the bus was held up – because I did not have a hotel reservation. I had my passport with me and I showed the college brochure regarding the day trip to the customs agent. He still claimed to not understand why I did not have a hotel reservation. I have never been in any police trouble. I don’t belong to any “watch” groups or right wing political groups. I’m a teacher and a mother, I attend church every Sunday – about as normal as a person can get. The worst part is that the Canadians don’t let you use the bathroom when they detain you. You just have to pray that you don’t pee your pants. Maybe the Canadian customs officials need to be trained by the United States customs officials who are much, much better at their job. I just don’t see how the Canadians are making their borders, or my border, any safer. They just seem to be angry at Americans.

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