My expereinces being searched at the Canadian border

Through my numerous road tripping adventures I have had to cross the Canadian border many times. Mostly uneventful regular questions, quickened heart beats, balls stuck in my thoat and a casual look in the trunk is all I get. But there have been several occasions on which I have had to undergo extensive waiting around while a team of dogs or team of latex glove wearing officers tore apart my car and put it back together again. Of Course on those few occasions I usually was on some sort of adventure and a team of border patrol agents looking through your two weeks of dirty underwear and dried apricots just added to the adventure.

My first horrific border crossing adventure took place in 2002 crossing into British Columbia from the State of Washington. I was on my first massive road trip with my buddy Yosef. We had a loaded up car with two heavy downhill bikes, and loads of backpacking gear in the back. A fully packed Volvo with New York plates always garners suspicion I guess. We slowly made our way across the international peace park that was one big garden with people walking their dogs and stretching their feet during the Sunday morning exodus into Canada. We were pumped up and sort of in a rush to ride the infamous North Shore of Vancouver, hundreds of miles of the greatest mountain biking in the world surrounded by huge old growth forest and a tons of obstacles built legally by the rather large bike riding population. We had been wandering around Utah and Idaho before coming up to the Northwest for shabbos in Seattle. It was a cloudy day as we pulled up to the border crossing booth. The regular run f the mill questions turned into not so regular as they gave me a sheet of paper, signaling that Iwas required to go inside for further questioning. This is relatively normal and just takes a few extra minutes. I had expected something of the sort being that we were far from home and two punk looking kids going to the marijuana capitol for a couple weeks.

They proceeded to ask how old we were and how we knew each other. I was 20 and my buddy was 16 which raised suspicious eyebrows from folks who don’t know the normality’s of the yeshiva school system. Thrown into a dorm with all ages you associate with all ages. His mother was told to fax over his birth certificate, fine now let us go, but of course it wasn’t good enough. They also told us that we needed more cash then we had on us in order to be in the country for two weeks. We hadn’t planned on spending any money except on gas and maybe lift tickets for Whistler Mountain. Nevertheless we were told to go back to America and get $500 cash, which we did after convincing some gas station owner to charge a credit card and take 3% for himself and give us the cash.

On this same trip a few weeks later it was time to return to America. We were coming through the border crossing in western Montana above Kalispell and once again we were pulled off and this time a full on search took place. Assuming that no one in their right mind would spend a few weeks in British Columbia without trying to bring some weed back over the border they proceeded to take everything out of the car and thoroughly go through my maps, film canisters and every other small space that is good for drugs transport. They were very friendly and it was nice being in that garage out on the high plains, 2000 miles way from home hanging out with a couple border agents who had a 75 mile commute to work at a border crossing station that was only open 9-5 or something like that, as opposed to the larger 24 hour establishments. The border agents put all the stuff back and wished us nice trip through wonderful Montana.

While living in Rochester I used to drive guys from the yeshiva to Toronto pretty frequently. I had a few rules, $75 cash up front first of all, no drugs or paraphernalia, no smoking or drinking inside my car and no buying alcohol at the border. Of course not everyone listened and one time they paid the price. On one such trip we were crossing into Canada via the Lewiston border and they pulled us in for paperwork check after all what were four 15-17 year old boys doing with some 21 year old guy? So they searched everyone and came up with a bottle of alcohol that one of the boys had bought at the duty free, no they didn’t card he said to the border guard, and no we weren’t going back to get our money back I said. So the kid had two choices, go back and return it or dump it out. I chose for him and dumped out his $20 worth of booze onto the pavement.

While driving from Rochester to Detroit once, I had realized I had forgotten my Passport a bit too late. It was late at night and of course being the bored agents they of course decided to give me that fateful colored slip of paper to the station house where they decide to search or question you. I had my license but no passport. So they proceeded to give me a little New York State geography exam which fortunately due to my knowledge of useless information passed with flying colors.  

My latest escapade to Alaska yielded many interesting border crossing adventures. Due partly to the fact that we had two guns for bear protection to claim each time we went in and out of Canada and due partly to the fact that we went in out of Canada a few times due to travel between the Yukon-Alaska and British Columbia. The many border crossing along with the fact we were three kids driving in a car 5000 miles from home on the northern edge of the continent allowed the border agents to be entertained by our stories as we watched them read Shira’s diary and look through our eclectic food supplies all the while telling us how their hunting a fishing season was going so far.   

The first border crossing we had to make on this trip was from Montana into Alberta on our way to Edmonton. This being the first time we would cross we knew would be the longest as well, mostly due to the strict Canadian gun control policies and the fact we had a .30 caliber rifle and a 12 gauge shotgun to quell our fears of 1500 pound brown bears pouncing on us while we davened shachris beside our cooking oatmeal. So the carefull person I am I checked and re-checked a bunch of times the exact protocol for crossing into Canada with guns, which on the east coast is a big deal, while in west Canadians are much more right wing and therefore more used to a tolerant of gun carrying citizens.

We pulled up to the border of Alberta and Montana, and I was immediately brought back to a few years back when I was searched at a smaller border crossing a few miles west of here. They of course made us pull around and told us what paperwork we needed for exportation of guns out of the US and then importation into Canada, luckily the forms were one time fees and good for a few months. Of course now that they had us in the station building they figured they would search these three scruffy gun carrying kids who were off on a grand adventure to Alaska 3500 miles away from this location. My Subaru outback with a full size wheel lashed onto its roof rack, a bike also up there and the most stuff you have ever seen packed into the back of the car was pulled into a large garage with a large viewing area for us to cringe as they tore apart the car and went through our most private of possessions. One guard found Shira’s diary and proceeded to read a whole bunch of her innermost thoughts, lucky bastard. Then my maps and atlases and books and one of our duffle bags were searched. It wasn’t a full fledged search and since we weren’t of the brown skin variety it apparently didn’t need to be. I have noticed many a time a brown dude with his car seat cushions on the floor next to his car, dogs sniffing under the wheel wells and mirrors shoved underneath the chassis to check for whatever a brown skinned fellow might want to smuggle into Canada. The border agent dd casually ask us if we smoked herb while talking to us about his large gun collection, we didn’t fall for his trick. We laughed about the addition of this adventure on the soon to be craziest drive any of us would ever do and relished in the thought that maybe they would find something objectionable and interrogate us and we would get to spend a night in jail. No such luck, a few minutes after our search parted and a few bewildered questions of “why aren’t we hunting?” because we had guns, but we hadn’t planned on hunting, we could tell many of the agents were jealous of the fact we would be in the Northern regions without using the opportunity to hunt some of the large game up there.

On this long trip we crossed into and out of Canada up to 8 times since certain parts of coastal Alaska are only accessible through Canada. On no other occasion were we actually searched, the border stations are usually on the road far away from civilization and they have nothing better to do, but for some reason, I ventured because by having our paper sheeted temporary gun permits we were deemed as responsible citizens.

On one occasion we did receive a lengthy questioning from a border crossing agent who just didn’t seem to want to let us back into Canada. We were coming from Haines, Alaska a coastal town that had one road in and the same road out, probably one of the nicer roads in Alaska that lead you from thousands of feet above sea level surrounded b y towering peaks, down to sea level with those same mountains twice as high. Anyway apparently the border agents in Canada don’t like the fact that the road to Haines runs through their province and Americans use their road system to get in and out. Some ridiculous rivalry situation that probably has to do with the fact the closest city is 1000 miles away. So she badgered us with useless questions ranging from why were we in Haines, to why we were coming back so soon, the weather was crappy and we wanted to be in the Yukon that’s why, eventually she scoffed at us and let us go.

Its funny because none of my border crossings was hairy accept for that one time in British Columbia in which we had driven 3000 miles only to be told that we needed more cash and they thought I had kidnapped my passenger. Its scary thinking that the whole trip can be messed up by a  moody border agent. Its all luck in my mind, border patrol agents range from nice sweet ladies who wish you luck in your endeavors to mean nasty old men who are suspicious o anyone under the age of 40 as a drug smuggler.