I thought all this us against Canada stuff was just for fun. But on a recent drive up to visit our friendly frozen neighbors to the north I was either on some kind of list, or just randomly chosen, for quite the interesting search procedure.
Let’s say you’re a humble tech blogger driving to Canada to visit a startup. If you have your passport and don’t have all your furniture in your car they ask a few nice questions about what you’re doing, ask when you’re leaving and if you have any alcohol or tobacco or large amounts of cash in the car. A minute later you’re on your way, desperately trying to convert km/h to mph, wondering if your car insurance is valid up there and frustrated that your navigation system seems to think the world ends at our border. Quick meeting with the startup and then you flee back to the warm comforting arms of America.
Not so on my most recent trip. As I got to the Canadian guy a second Canadian person walked up to the little booth and they talk. He’d barely looked at my passport before telling me to pull over to the search area. Ok, no problem, has to happen at some point. Then two border police asked me to get out of my car and step to a table and remove everything from my pockets. They went through everything in my wallet. Asked me over and over why I was visiting Canada. I was super pleasant and refrained from a variety of sarcastic responses.
Then they said they were going to search my car. Ok, no problem. Nothing there I’m worried about. “Please walk to the main building sir while we do this.”
“Can I stay and watch.”
“No. And please leave your cell phone here.”
“Ah, no. I’m taking my phone.”
“Who do you want to call?”
“No one. But it’s my phone. Look at it while I’m here.”
“Sir, please leave your phone and go inside the building.”
“Can I just leave now please? Don’t really want to visit Canada any more.”
“No. Please step inside the building.”
They were looking a little fidgety at this point. And since leaving Canada wasn’t the option if I didn’t comply, I went inside the building. I couldn’t see what they were doing for the next 15 minutes, but they eventually came back in and gave me my passport and keys. I asked for my phone. The woman said someone else had it. I said that wasn’t super helpful. She went away, and came back with my phone, which was now turned off.
I’m no constitutional law scholar, but this strikes me as something that would be illegal in the U.S., even for non-U.S. citizens. Searching and seizing is fine, but not letting the person watch while being searched and seized is just weird.
If there are any Canadian lawyers out there familiar with the rules around border searches, please let me know if this is considered appropriate.