There probably isn’t a premier in all of Canada happier than our very own Gordon Campbell that the wonders of technology have allowed us to teleconference without ever leaving the comfort and security of our offices. Oh sure, unless you have your very own personal supercomputer and blindingly high-speed connection, the whole teleconferencing thing is a bit balky, all herky-jerky motion and dialogue reminiscent of watching a poorly-dubbed, post-war Japanese radiation monster B movie. But it’ll do the job if you happen to be one of those people who won’t, or can’t, travel easily.
Gordo may be one of those people.
Many more of us may also be as the future brave new world unfolds, or, more accurately, gets further interconnected.
Once merely diligent about keeping the threat of homosexual erotica and heavy metal headbangers out of the True North, our historically accommodating border guards have widened their scope and definition of undesirables. I don’t know if they’ve reached the fever pitch of their U.S. counterparts — who have seemingly stretched the profile of terrorist and homeland security threat to include middle-aged blond ski bums with an attitude about taking their shoes off in airports — but they seem to be getting there.
Crossing the border has always been one part terror, one part amusement. When I first “moved” to Canada in 1979, I had to cross the border a lot. I wasn’t really living in Canada. I wasn’t really living in Vermont either. I would have lived in Vermont but I couldn’t fit inside the post office box I’d rented in Burlington, an address of convenience. I was living in Montreal but I was persona non grata , a status I got so used to I listed it on my resume for a number of years and lied about it being an obscure fraternity.
Crossing the border weekly for most of that first year, I managed to become a person known to the border guards. Not known well enough to avoid their questions or have them ask me in for a cup of coffee, but known well enough to arouse their suspicions. At least on the American side.
The U.S. border guards seemed to take it personally that I was spending so much time in Canada… in the winter, not that Montreal’s winter is measurably more severe than Burlington’s but most of the border guards seemed to be from places other than Vermont and, in all probability, hated the fact they were posted on the U.S.-Canadian border instead of the U.S.-Mexican border where the chance to draw their weapon was much higher. No one was sneaking across the border from Canada. All the Canadians were trying to sneak back into Canada with their treasure of contraband dairy, cheap smokes and cheaper liquor.
That pretty much left me odd man out. I got used to their surly attitude, their insinuations that I was up to something and it was only a matter of time before they figured out what it was and ended my traitorous ways. I got so used to having my car — an asthmatic ’68 Volkswagen squareback — searched it became something of a game. They’d open the back and root around the various tools and spare parts so integral to travel by VW, they’d check under the fold-up rear seat, ever hopeful of finding a sprouting marijuana seed so they could bust me for both possession and cultivation, they’d occasionally pry off the door liners to make sure I wasn’t smuggling California oranges back into the country and, of course, they’d pat me down when I treated the whole thing with practiced nonchalance.
Ironically, what they never did was look in the trunk. Since VW squarebacks looked like little station wagons, they must have thought there was an engine under that protruding snout instead of a trunk big enough to smuggle in whole families of tiny Eskimos.
Their disappointment in never finding anything illegal and my pique at being inconvenienced crossing the border into my own country finally collided. On a hot June day when they’d been particularly destructive searching the car, a guy who looked like the chain gang boss in Cool Hand Luke might have been his mentor asked me, “Do you have more than $10,000 cash on you?”
I could have just said, “No… sir.” That was the truth, after all. Even including the Volkswagen, my entire net worth didn’t amount to $10,000. But I was pissed off, hot, thirsty and tired of the charade. So I said, “If I had $10,000 on me, I’d buy you and your partner and be done with this nonsense.”
I knew it was the wrong thing to say. After that encounter, which lasted most of the rest of the day and involved personal details I’d rather not go in to, I started using the Plattsburg crossing.
By contrast, going back into Canada, where, technically, I was an illegal alien, was a breeze. “Got any smokes, liquor or cheap dairy?” the Canadian customs guy would ask.
“Of course,” I’d learned to reply, even if I didn’t have those things because not having them was way more suspicious than having them.
“Beaut. Have a nice day, eh?”
But those days are no more. Add to the litany of post-9/11 indignities — Patriot Acts I & II, the Iraq war, a conservative government on this side of the border — Canadian border services run amok.
While our Supreme Court has been busy dismantling the more draconian laws passed in the fever of terrorism coming to North America, Canadian border services has been busy swapping data with U.S. Homeland Security, who’s been busy collecting data about terrorists and anyone who might ever be a terrorist… which is to say every living, breathing person in the world.
As a result, Whistler’s facing yet another threat to tourism. Youthful indiscretion.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius wrote last Friday about American tourists, bound for ski vacations in Whistler, who were turned back at the border by formerly-friendly Canadian border guards. After being ushered into rooms filled to capacity with other bewildered travelers, they were told to turn around and go home. They were not welcome in Canada. They were undesirables whose heinous past had caught up with them.
Their crimes. One got busted for shoplifting at a Piggly Wiggly as part of a fraternity prank 20 years ago. He was fined and had to sweep the police station parking lot. One was pinched for pot possession over 30 years ago. Successful enough 30 years later to book a week at the Chateau, he was turned around and told not to come back.
So I’m wondering, with the inmates running the border on both sides, does Premier Campbell’s DUI from a few years ago mean he can’t leave Canada? Only seems fair.