The Guardian: “Canadians traveling to Women's March denied US entry after sharing plans”

by Joseph McKeown

Travelers from Canada to the presidential inauguration and Women’s March on Washington say they were denied entry to the US after telling border agents at a land crossing in Quebec about their plans. Sasha Dyck, a thirty-four-year-old nurse from Montreal, was one of a group of eight who tried to cross the US/Canada border at St. Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec and Champlain, New York. When the group—two of whom were French nationals and the rest Canadians—told the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents about their plans, the agents told them to pull over. Agents searched their cars, examined their mobile phones, and each member of the group was fingerprinted and photographed. Agents told the two French citizens that they had been denied entry to the US and that any future visit to the US would now require a visa.

"Then for the rest of us, they said, ‘You’re headed home today,'" Dyck tells the Guardian. CBP warned the group that they would be arrested if they tried to cross the border again over the weekend. “And that was it, they didn’t give a lot of justification.” She made the same journey to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. “I couldn’t even get in for this one, whereas at the other one, the guy at the border literally gave me a high five when I came in and everybody was just like, ‘Welcome’. The whole city was partying; nobody was there to protest Obama the first time.” Dyck tells Global News: “I hope it doesn’t represent a closing down or a firming up of the border, or of mentalities south of the border.” 

In a separate incident, UK national Joe Kroese says that he, a Canadian, and two Americans were held at the same border crossing for three hours last Thursday. The group had traveled from Montreal—where Kroese is studying—and when they told agents they were considering attending the Women’s March, they were questioned, fingerprinted, and photographed. Kroese and his Canadian friend were refused entry because they were going to attend what one border agent claimed was a “potentially violent rally.” Kroese says that CBP advised them to not travel to the US for a few months, and that Kroese would need a visa for any future visits to the US. Kroese says another group of Canadians were also refused entry. "They searched the car and then they asked the driver if he practiced Islam and if he spoke Arabic,” he tells the Independent.  They wanted to spook us a bit. It felt like a kind of intimidation." 

In another incident, Montreal resident and McGill-student Joseph Decunha says he was denied entry when he told agents he was attending the inauguration and Women’s March. The group he was traveling with was brought in for secondary processing, where the border agent asked about their political views, Decunha tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “The first thing he asked us point blank is, ‘Are you anti- or pro-Trump?’” Decunha says he was fingerprinted, photographed and denied entry. “They told me I was being denied entry for administrative reasons. According to the agent, my traveling to the United States for the purpose of protesting didn’t constitute a valid reason to cross,” Decunha says. “It felt like, if we had been pro-Trump, we would have absolutely been allowed entry.”

US CBP says it does not discuss individual cases, and states in an email to the Guardian: “We recognize that there is an important balance to strike between securing our borders while facilitating the high volume of legitimate trade and travel that crosses our borders every day, and we strive to achieve that balance and show the world that the United States is a welcoming nation.” Scott Bardsley, the press secretary to Ralph Goodale, Canada’s public safety minister, in a statement defended US CBP agents for their actions. “When entering another country, including Canada, it has always been the case that goods accompanying a traveler may be searched to verify admissibility. Every country is sovereign and able to make its own rules to admit people and goods to manage its immigration framework, health and safety.”

More than one million individuals every day are admitted into the United States at its air, land, and sea ports, the agency reports, and an average of 600 people a day are denied entry for various reasons including national security concerns. Canadian nationals and nationals of those countries in the Visa Waiver Program are permitted to travel temporarily to the US without a visa for certain valid reasons. Valid reasons for such trips, according to CBP, include vacation, visit with friends or relatives, medical treatment, as well as “participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations.”

Even with reports of some turned away, the Huffington Post notes that in all likelihood many Canadians were able to cross the border to attend the march. According to Aaron Bowker, a public affairs officer for the CBP’s Buffalo field office in New York, the Buffalo office saw a fourteen percent increase in vehicular traffic last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and that many of these admitted travelers were heading to events in D.C. He says that approximately 41,000 vehicles were processed over that three-day period and more than 100,000 passengers were inspected. Just over 95 people were denied entry, which is less than one percent of travelers who were processed. Bowker says that not all of those travelers denied entry were heading to D.C. Organizers for the Women’s March had arranged for some 650 people in buses from Canada to cross the border on last Friday night, and so far there were no reports these buses were prevented from entering the US.