Free Speech Director Paul Fromm Harassed by CBSA
MISSISSAUGA. November 30, 2019. I arrived bleary-eyed this morning at 5:30 on Air Canada after short, amazing vacation in South America. However, I would have to put up with an intrusive nearly hour and a half of harassment by Canada Border Services Agency agents. As former New York Yankees’ catcher Yogi Berra used to say: “It was deja vu all over again.” For over 20 years, I have been subjected to on again off again harassment by Customs Canada, now Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for my political views.
In the late 1990s, I had two book bags containing over 90 titles including Irish Myths seized and held as possible “hate propaganda”. In the end, I got almost all the titles back. In 2008, Customs Canada stole by laptop because I would not provide them with the password so they could snoop. [The law has now changed and gives the CBSA snoops the right to rifle through your cellphone or laptop. So much for the “right to privacy” government agencies love to invoke to hide information THEY don’t want their taxpayer employers to have!].
On arrival nearly a week before in Latin America, that country’s border force subjected visitors to a quick swipe of their passport, a photo and an impression of their thumbprint before welcoming them with: “Enjoy your stay in ….”
On arrival back in my own country, I proceeded with passport and customs declaration
to an area where there is a bank of machines. You insert your passport. The machine reads it. Then, you insert your customs declaration and the machine reads it and shoots you back a photocopy. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. The machines are temperamental. I tried three several times each without success. I then headed in a line to present my failed paperwork. I was sent on to an inspector at a wicket. As I arrived to line up, a couple ahead of me had just been cleared by the 25-ish male agent. I headed up to the wicket. Oozing attitude and authority, he snapped: “Get back. You’re supposed to wait to be called.” I’m a veteran traveller. This must be some new rule he invented after an unhappy Friday evening with his girlfriend. I rolled my eyes and took two dramatic paces back. I was then told I could come forward. He scanned my passport and scribbled some numbers on my declaration sheet.
I had an uneasy feeling that as proof of his power Attitude Guy was sending me on to secondary inspection. After I had retrieved my suitcase from the luggage carousel, I headed to a final check where you present your customs form to an agent. Sure enough, I was being sent on to secondary inspection. I spent about 15 minutes waiting to see an agent. Others at secondary inspection seemed to have bulging suitcases perhaps with contraband. One had two pets and their paperwork. She was seen by several agents, sent inside for some further processing and cleared. I seemed to be the last weary traveller standing. At last, I was summoned by a short totally bald agent — the Bald Guy. In this “transparent” open society none of these bureaucrats has names. It must be for their own security!
The Bald Guy scanned my passport, stared and stared at the computer screen, and then began a laborious series of questions: Where had I been? How long? Where had I stayed? He kept returning to this question. Firstly, as a Canadian citizen, I had an absolute right to return. The only real issue would be whether I was carrying any contraband — endangered animal parts, currency over $10,000 in value (I wish), “hate propaganda” (whatever that is) or goods in excess of the duty free limit. [In my case, a mere $55 worth!] Frankly, where I stayed — at a hotel, at a hostel, in a packing crate under a bridge — was none of this man’s business? It was part of the psychological warfare, though, Then, more questions. What do I do? I told him I was a director. Of what? “The Canadian Association for Free Expression.” He wrote that down, but got the name messed up. What does it do? I gave him a brief description of our work. But what does it matter, I wondered?
He then took my camera and rapidly went through the pictures. “You have a lot of pictures,” the Bald Guy observed. [It’s a camera. That’s what it’s used for, I thought.] Ah, ha. “Where was this picture taken?” he demanded. I asked him to turn the device so that I could see, “Was it in Thailand?” I wasn’t there. “I think it was in Japan,” I told him. Some dozen pictures later, he saw more Oriental writing. “Where was that taken?” In Japan, I told him. Somewhat later, he found a picture of me and a woman. “Is that your wife?” No, I replied, a friend. And on and on. All of this time wasting interrogation was utterly irrelevant.
Next, the Bald Guy turned his attention to my laptop. He looked at the icons on the screen and some photos. Ah, ha! Another discovery. There was a video I had recorded: CBSA Harasses Canadian Traveller. What was that about?” he demanded. [The sort of thing you’re doing now, I thought to myself.] In my role as a director of a free speech organization, I had been phoned by a young man who had some teeshirts seized on his return from Germany. They were heavy metal teeshirts from bands he’d heard. “What did you do?” he insisted. “I told him what his rights were.” “Were they Nazi teeshirts?” he quizzed. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I never saw them.” [Again, what did any of this third degree matter?]
Now, it was on to my bag of reading material. He pawed through a number of newspaper clippings. Then, he discovered two old Spanish textbooks. “Are you learning Spanish?” Sherlock Holmes asked me. “I’m trying to,” I answered.
Finally, it was my suitcase’s turn to be searched. I had two small tins of tea. He showed no interest. They might have hidden cocaine. I had two carefully packaged wine bottles. He showed no interest. There were some clothes, as you’d expect.
I could see he was bored. He told me to close up the suitcase. He handed me back my passport. “You’re good to go.” I had been detained an hour and a quarter with the Bald Guy.
The interrogation had served no purpose except to delay me and harass me. Ernst Zundel told me customs agents would regularly detain him for three hours every time he returned to Canada. It’s all part of the soft tyranny imposed by our government that is eager to welcome back and “rehabilitate” ISIS fighters. — Paul Fromm