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Post 9/11 ordeal at the U.S. Border

By Tokunbo Ojo

In my several years of traveling around the world, I have never been subjected to the humiliation and animalistic treat I was given on May 24 at the U.S.-Canada border. Apart from questioning the authenticity of my Canadian passport, American immigration officers D.R. Moore, J. Wilson and C.A. Racine – held me for over two hours, seized my mobile phone, and prevented me from contacting the Canadian embassy or the immigration Canada.

As long as I live, this horrible ordeal shall remain fresh in my memory. Having dropped off my soccer clips for Montreal Gazette sports editor Mark Tremblay, I joined the 8:30 P.M. Greyhound bus heading to New York at Berri UQAM, Montreal. When we arrived at the Canada – U, S, border at 10:04 p.m., everybody on the bus reported to the American Immigration Center. Immigration officer Moore signaled to me to come.

“Where are you going tonight?’

“New York, “ I said.

“For business or what?”

“To see a friend.”

Where do you live?”

“Montreal.”

“Where were you born?”

“Montreal.”

“Why are you smiling?” he asked.

“That’s me.”

“Do you know this is being videotaped?”

“Yes, I know.”

“So, this is not funny.”

He scanned my passport and asked:

“Have you always been living in Canada?”

“Yes, pretty much?”

“Do you live anywhere else?”

I lived in Nigeria for a while.”

“For how long?”

“For about 15 years or so.”

“That’s a significant amount of time. Do you have any other IDs?”

I gave him my Quebec driver’s license, my Canadian Association of Journalist’s membership card, my investigative Reporter and Editor’s membership card, and Washington D.C. Library of Congress membership card. He jumped up and walked swiftly to a computer at the other end of the room.

He asked immigration officer C.A. Racine to come over. As she got closer, he whispered something to her. Looking at my passport and other Ids, she asked.

Do you speak French?”

“No.”

“If you were born in Montreal, how come you don’t speak French?”

“Well, I lived outside the province of Quebec for a while.”

“So did you (go to) school in Canada?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Which school?”

“Concordia.”

Having ransacked my wallet, she took my mobile phone and went to join D.R. Moore.

“Why this?” I protested. “I passed through this same border two weeks ago when I sent to present a paper at MIT.”

“It does not matter the number of time you have entered in the past,” another officer answered.

They searched my bag and could not find anything incriminating. I was taken back to the bus, where the seat where I sat was thoroughly searched. Nothing was found. I presume that was the end of it. I was wrong.

The bus driver and the rest of the bus were told to continue their journey, while I was kept at the immigration center. An officer named J. Wilson took my fingerprints and mug shots. And at the back, Moore and Racine were giving out my passport number and driver’s license details over the phone.

Ninety fruitless minutes later, Moore announced to Wilson, Racine and the other two, “They don’t have any information on him.”

“What are you parents’ names and date of birth?” he asked me.

Back on the phone, he repeated my father’s name. Still nothing.

I’d had enough by this point. Since they had already seized my cellular phone, I demanded the use of a phone to call Immigration Canada or the Canadian Embassy in New York.

They denied the request ad told me to go and sit down.

“No, I am not going to sit down. I need to call my embassy now.”

Moore, Wilson and two armed officers pounced on me. They struggled to put me on the seat, but they could not overpower me. Emotions were running high; the memory of Ahmadou Duallo, who was shot 41 times by four New York police officers in 1999, flashed through my mind. I hadn’t been able to say a final good-bye to my family, so I allowed them to have their way.

After almost three hours I was informed I could not enter the U.S.

“You are not cooperating with us,” Racine said.

“Not cooperating with you?” I gave you all the information you requested…”

“Sorry sir, we can’t allow you to enter…”

“Well if that’s the case, can I have an official form to make a complaint about your act of unprofessionalism?”

“Sorry sir, we don’t have the forms here. Call them in New York.”

Editor’s note: Tokunbo Ojo is a Montreal based freelance writer of black ancestry. Posting under permission by Jim Duff, Editor-in-Chief, The Suburban, Quebec’s largest English Weekly Newspaper  

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