Canadian border guards demand inbound journalist's mobile phone contacts, prohibit writing while in-country

Henry sez, "Jacobin editor and In These Times correspondent Bhaskar Sunkara got a going over from Canadian border cops who accused him of being 'political' for knowing about health insurance, and of being a 'bigtime journalist embedded in the student movement,' then demanded his phone and details of his contacts."

The other agent, now done examining my roll of dental floss, flipped through the copy of In These Times, and saw my name on the masthead. So you’re a big time journalist? You must be embedded in the student movement, right?

This was the surprise and, to be honest, it was kind of refreshing. For the first few years of my adult life, I’ve dealt with extra screenings at airports and crossings, mostly outside the United States, particularly in the European countries I’ve visited. It was due to my race. My first hour in Canada was like that. Now I was being harassed because I was a leftist going to possibly talk to people in a country terrified of a militant left-wing movement. And I was a “known journalist.” I couldn’t wait to brag to my friends.

They asked me if I had two identities. No, of course not. How come you have all these medical cards that say “Swamy Sunkara” on them? I tried to explain the United States’ employer-based health care system and how young people under a certain age were under their parent’s coverage. You know a lot about this, are you political?

The irony was striking. The system I was explaining was a stark reminder of America’s weak social safety net. It was foreign to the Canadian border officials, who were admittedly not too bright, but it was one of the reasons why so many were marching in the streets of Montreal – to halt the neoliberal offensive. The border officials didn’t want me to join the protesters, but they also didn’t want my health care.

Reading Lolita in Montreal: Canada Doesn’t Want More Journalists (Thanks, Henry!)


  1. So did he write that while in Canada? I kind of hope so, because I *seriously* doubt the authority of the border guards to tell him not to.

    I thought Canada was doing better than that…

    1. We’ve elected a majority government headed by a neoconservative who considers Canada a second-rate socialist nation and is attempting to remake us into a third-rate low-tax resource extraction zone. I’m not at all surprised our internal police forces are adopting the same attitudes as our elected officials who publicly equate environmentalism and socialism with terrorism and communism. 

      I’m hoping for a pushback – recent census data shows Canadians are growing older en masse, and therefore more conservative, but I think the media reports glossed over the fact that that also means all those old conservatives will soon be dead. Ha ha.

    2.  Nope. During the Olympics our guards hassled journalists about potentially reporting negatively on the games. They also have a long history of going after certain kinds of adult entertainment.

  2. what a clusterfuck!
    There’s irony in here somewhere but I haven’t seen it properly attributed yet.

  3. Wack-job said: “I have that government is an institution of violence because its only tool is force.   Can you disprove this or not?   What fallacies have i used?”

    Since you asked, the fallacies committed in this thread so far are as follows:

    1) Begging the Question
    2) Shifting the burden of proof
    3) False dilemma
    4) Guilt by association
    5) Generalization
    6) False choices
    7) Red herring
    8) Slippery Slope
    9) Special pleading
    10) Straw Man

    There may be more…I lost track.

    1. I would like to see some papal fallacy. Is it the pope fallible these days? I forget.

  4.  My problem with this argument is that libertarians and republicans seem to think that their freedom has nothing to do with that of their fellows. In their perfect world, no one would pay taxes, but it would be “every man for himself.”

    They don’t seem to understand the benefit of us, as a community, looking out for each other. When we band together to pay for education, our community becomes better able to support high paying jobs and children have a way to rise out of poverty. (Which lead to a more prosperous, more free life.) When we work together to pay for public transportation, we have less congestion on our streets. (Which gives us more freedom because  we aren’t stuck in traffic as long.) When we each chip in to pay for our elderly and our sick, it makes us more free because we don’t have to worry as much about our future and the future of those we love.

    Sure, the system is far from perfect. Sure, we lose some income to support that system. But I say the price is worth it.

    BT Wintersebb, you sound as is you have thought a lot about the problems of government, but have you REALLY thought about what would happen if you dismantled the system? Have you thought about the repercussions of abandoning the poor, the sick and the elderly? You think crime is bad now. What happens when people need to resort to theft to feed their families? What happens to the children of families too poor to pay for education? We have government because together we are stronger. The calls to dismantle government will only make us poorer and weaker.

    1. Libitarians do not understand how perfectly they functions as cogs in the rich man’s machine.  It must be some variant of Stockholm Syndrome. 

    2.  The Guardian’s George Monbiot made an excellent article about the skewed notion of libertarianism and freedom.

    3.  The big problem with libertarians IMHO is that they focus all of their attention on the power that the government has on individuals while ignoring the power other peoples and organizations have. They seem to believe that if the government didn’t restrict anybody’s freedoms, then nobody else would either.

      That’s very naive, there are plenty of peoplethat can cause you trouble, with or without the use of direct force. For example, an employee’s relationship with his employer isn’t equal at all. If the employer has 1000 employees, he can tell one of them “If you don’t like your work conditions, then quit.” If the employee quit, he loses 100% of his income, while the employer loses 0.1% of his productivity. Of course the employer has a LOT more leverage in this situation. Especially if you rip the social net to shreds in the name of lower taxes.

      Sadly, the world we live in tends to accumulate power and wealth in the hands of the already powerful and wealthy. The role of the government should be to make the situation fairer (although it has failed doing so lately). Removing power from the government means that the powerful are free to use their power to rule over the weak. At least  we vote for the government.

  5. Almost every day, I hear another news story about the abuse of power by some level of Canadian police services (municipal, provincial, RCMP, border). Way more than I ever did when I live in the US, although that might just be because I’ve become more attuned to this issue as I’ve gotten older. The most prominent recent examples include RCMP sexual harassment cases, Taser deaths, and overstepping of already dubious rules at the G20 summit in Toronto and the student protests in Quebec. 

  6. [Quit feeding the troll, people.]

    The conclusion to this little interrogation was also interesting – they denied him a visa, but gave him a  3-day visitor’s pass. WTF?

    Some things that might have alarmed them: 
    He is toward the top of the masthead of a major left-wing magazine, a staff writer listed just below the real editors and above the “contributing editors”.

    His profile on the magazine’s website says:  ” He blogs at Uprising, the magazine’s blog covering movements for social and economic justice.”

    His last article before he went to Canada was a repost of Nate Lavey’s video  “Red Square Revolt: Quebec Students on Strike”.  Because this video has much more in-depth reporting than is published elsewhere, and  none of the fake balance in usual news stories, it would probably seem like a promotional video to the border guards.

    His last real article was titled: “Can Labor Strike Back? / America’s unions must find a way to circumvent restrictive federal laws”, and it concludes: “…the return of mass demonstrations offers a new climate for labor. Now is the perfect time to remember how to fight.”

    The only thing I can figure that would make sense of the  border guards’ decision to let him through for a limited time would be that they passed on his phone number and perhaps other information from his phone such as call lists and contacts to a law-enforcement or intelligence agency so that that agency could monitor his contacts in Canada. They may also be hoping he commits an immigration violation which would give them clear cover for denying him entry in the future.

  7. It may surprise you to learn but this is pretty much the same treatment you can expect going from Canada to the United States, the same sorts of questions, the whisking to be interviewed, etc. Sometimes the “dumb act” is a way to see if you could explain yourself or if your story unravels. But younger agents are occasionally a bit clueless on subjects they aren’t familiar with so just be polite and patient until their supervisor helps them out.

    Also, there’s usually restrictions if you’re planning on working in another country. I think that’s the issue the border guards were concerned about when they asked this journalist not to write: He wasn’t entering on a work visa. Canada’s border guards are a subsidiary of the equivalent of America’s IRS. They were probably concerned with taxes more than anything.

  8. Welp, all of Spammytroll’s comments were removed while I was in mid-reply. It seems a shame to waste it, so:

    [re: “… I am an anarchy-capitalist…”]

    You mean ‘anarcho-capitalist’, but what you really mean is ‘pretentious tit’.

    You are completely ideologically fixated and unable to think outside or about the narrow perception you’ve fallen in love with. You deride others for not falling in line with your arguments, and assume we lack your clarity. Alas, it is not clarity that you suffer an over-abundance of. It is obsession, arrogance, pride and zeal.

    Ever wonder what goes on in the heads of conspiracy theorists, that keeps them spiraling around crazy loci of fruit-loopery? How they can be so clearly intelligent and foolish at the same time? Wonder harder.

    The people on this thread arguing with you, and mocking you? Perhaps you should consider the possibility that they have a point. Perhaps you should consider that being constantly in attack mode renders you weak and inflexible. 

    I hope that you’re young, because that means you have a chance to grow out of this phase and feel embarrassed about it later.

  9. Such type of security officials can be found in any country and in any part of the world but it is strange to me to read that such type of incidents can happen  in developed countries.

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