Boorish border guards don’t help a country’s image

I’ve been to Canada any number of times and have always enjoyed the overall experience. Except, that is, for the border crossing interrogations. Man, talk about intense. Gitmo’s got nothing on Canada.

Yesterday’s incident was typical. As I was leaving Niagara Falls, Ontario, I received the third degree from a tough-as-nails crossing guard who had a very serious chip on his shoulder. To wit:

Crossing Guard: "What was the purpose of your visit?"

Repman: "I was invited to speak before the Canadian Public Relations Society’s annual conference."

Crossing Guard: "Really? Why do we need Americans to tell us what to do?"

Repman: "I can’t answer that. I was happy to do it, though."

Crossing Guard: "What did you talk about?"

Repman: "All sorts of public relations issues and trends."

Crossing guard: "Such as?"

And so on and so forth. He kept me at the gate for at least 10 minutes, and asked me everything from length of stay to where I lived and worked in the U.S. (He really struggled with the fact that I lived in Jersey, but worked in NYC. I guess they don’t commute in Niagara Falls). Anyway, when I was finally released, I felt as if I’d been grilled by Sipowitz of NYPD Blue fame.

As I said, this wasn’t the first time I’d been badgered by a boorish Canadian crossing guard. One guy actually delayed me for a good half hour because he was convinced I had come to Canada to steal their intellectual property.

I’m sure there are bogus crossing/customs people in every country. And, clearly, they have a serious job to do. But, going overboard to beat up an otherwise harmless U.S. citizen reflects poorly on a country and detracts from the overall travel experience. Maybe the Canadian Tourist Board can hold a few "personality" workshops for the guards. They might also want to explain that "invited" guests to their country might think twice about coming back and sharing information if an interrogation awaits them at every crossing.

19 thoughts on “Boorish border guards don’t help a country’s image

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  4. Sorry to hear about your experience, Texas. While I’m appalled, I’m not at all surprised. Whether it’s border guards, TSA agents or your garden variety, small town cop, too many low level government workers abuse their positions by abusing us. If I were you, I’d write to my Congressperson, explaining what happened and asking her/him to follow-up.

  5. I just crossed not an hour ago. The US customs agent scared me silly. I’m a single, older woman, traveling alone and drove over to see the Canadian Falls view before my plane leaves Buffalo tomorrow. This guy kept telling me that women don’t travel alone. I kept answering the questions and he kept repeating in harsher and harsher voice tones, and then he’d say “Why didn’t you tell me that” It was like a drill sargent abusing his recruits into submission. It was awful. He was very heavy handed and seemed to be enjoying being a jerk. If I knew where to report this sexist behavior, I would. For now, I just googled it and found this site.

  6. I crossed the US border from Canada yesterday. I am a Canadian citizen and had my passport with me. The US border guard treated me like dirt. I know they have a job to do. But I am also a human. If the border guard thinks I am unwelcome to his country. He should just tell me that I can not go. I will return. I know it is not my right to enter another country. It is a privlege. But he was very disrespectful. People don’t even treat a dog the way I was treated.
    From now on I will only go to the US if it is absolutely necessary.

  7. There’s only one problem with your story. Why would you be questioned by a Canadian border agent upon LEAVING Canada??

  8. Just returned from Canada back to USA, at one of the more rural border crossings, just north of Sand Point, Idaho.
    The border guard clearly had a big ole chip on his shoulder! Just very rude to me and my wife.
    Reminded me of the small town law men I grew up around when I was a kid/teen in Mississippi. I bet it is the same situation. The guards are poor, country people. PR is something they’ve never THOUGHT about. When you drive up to cross the border, you are just one of those rich jerks with a fancy car that the guard has to deal with. He or she is workin’ in a little hut by the roadside and you are on vacation! A perfect situation for the abuse of a little power.
    Anyway that’s my guess. It is odd to get that rudness in the middle of what is supposed to be a fun trip!

  9. Right on, Biffo. And my comments weren’t directed solely at Canadian customs types by any means. There are some real louts in every country I’ve visited. It’s just that the Canadian guy clearly had time on his hands. There were no other people in line, etc. So, he felt like taking it out on me. Such are the turn-ons for bureaucrats.

  10. Try changing nationality for a day and arrive at Kennedy even pre 9/11. You’re guilty of something till you prove yourself otherwise.
    I lived in Canada back in the 80’s and the law was that 1 in 7 songs played on the radio had to be by a Canadian artist. Your immigration officer was probably awakened every morning by the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. It probably had a lasting adverse effect.Is that law still in place?
    Canadians spend their lives telling people who they are not(American) rather than who they are. It’s not easy being Canadian.

  11. Important to remember that border guards, airport security personnel and the like are not just looking for terrorists. There are a multitude of undesirables or people who need to be screened out- drug smugglers, dead beat dads, etc. A man in front of me at the airport was stopped because he physically resembled someone wanted for a bank robbery. These civil servants have a tough job, and while I don’t endorse their rude behavior (innocent until proven guilty and all that) we do need to know that some questions can be critical and frequently are asked just to gague initial reaction and nervousness (or lack thereof.)

  12. Wow, if you think Canada is bad, try Heathrow Airport! I know my 5’1” self can be very intimidating at times, but to treat me like I am a national threat is a little over board.
    I was given the third degree with questions such as where do I live, my job status, what it is I do, when am I leaving their country and why not sooner rather than later! Half way through the interrogation I thought he was going to shoot me up with some truth serum and hook me up to a polygraph! So in the end, I have to agree that the border control experience can really ruin your perception of what might be a quite pleasant and friendly country.

  13. Sorry to hear about your recent experience rep. For the record though, I’ve met some pretty boorish crossing guards on the other side too. Even with my legit US work visa.
    Bad border experience wouldn’t stop me from visiting though. Once you’re in the US, it is great (people and country).
    I think your call for a PR 101 session for Canadian guards will be taken seriously soon enough though, especially with the pending US citizen passport requirements for entering the great white north and the rise of the canuck peso. It’s not just about being nice — we NEED to be nice for the economy’s sake.
    I smell a new biz opportunity for tourism PR – both sides of the border.
    In any event, better to have gruff guards than a wall. Sure glad that idea was tossed out from the Senate bill.
    Jimmy – you should know better than to stand between me and a piece of cheese.

  14. You know, I’ve had the same experience and been really saddened by it. I love Canada. I love Canadians. I’ve had a wonderful experience each time I’ve visited. It’s just that chip you describe from the customs folks. What’s up with that, eh?

  15. rep- do you think the interrogation had anything to do with your recent name change to steve al zar repman cody?

  16. So, from this and the other post, we are to think that Canadians aren’t week or feeble and they aren’t to be reckoned with.
    In fact, now that I think about it, I can recall a time in the kitchen when Ms. Zaks, a Canadian, basically beat me up for the last of Ed’s mini cheddar wheels.
    Seriously, I get what your are saying and maybe he was over the top. However, like your post on the surprise train check, it is good to know that some boarders work, and that some folks are safe on mass transit.