Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2006
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2006 Whitehorse Star
Author: Justin Hogrefe, Douglas Island, Alaska


This letter will try to convey the outrage I feel about my experience 
crossing from Alaska into the Yukon Territory at the border station 
along the Alaska Highway.

The time was about 7 p.m. on July 25. I pulled up to the Canadian 
customs, where I sat for some minutes while I waited for other 
persons in front of me in line to move on.

My turn came about in a reasonable amount of time. I found myself 
greeting the cold, female customs official, who started asking me a 
very long list of questions, as she gave me the "evil eye". As she 
was trying to stare me down, I could tell right away, she did not like me.

Her interrogation of me went something like this:

"You have some identification?"

"Yes, here," and I handed her my current Alaska driver's licence.

"Is this your van?"


"Are you the registered owner?"


"Let's see your car registration and insurance."

"OK, here you go."

And I handed her the only insurance card I had, which was an old, 
expired card, along with my current van registration.

"This policy is expired."

"It should not be. I must have left my current insurance card in 
Skagway or Juneau."

"Have you been paying your bills?"


"You're going to have to call your insurance company and have them 
fax us a copy of your insurance policy."


"How long have you been in Canada?"

"About four days."

"What were you doing in Canada?"

"I am just passing through."

"Where are you headed?"

"I am going to Skagway."

"Why are you going to Skagway?"

"Because I work there."

"Who do you work for?"

"I work for the U.S. Forest Service."

"How long have you worked for them?"

"Just this summer."

"Where did you work last summer?"

"I worked at the garden at U. A. F."

"Where are you coming from?"

"I am coming from McCarthy and Kennecott."

"What were you doing there?"

"That was my destination for my road trip that I have been on."

"How long were you there?"

"About three days."

"Did you purchase anything in Canada?"

"Yes, a couple of car parts for my van. I had a little car trouble on 
the way back."

"Any drugs in there?"

"No drugs."

"Do you have any weapons?"

"Yes, my hunting knife."

"Do you have any alcohol or tobacco?"

"Yes, I have a pack of cigarettes, a couple bottles of beer and a 
bottle of whiskey."

"Do you have any firearms?"

"Yes, my rifle."

"Is it your firearm?"

"Yes it is."

"Where did you get it?"

"I bought it at a garage sale in Tok."

"When did you buy it?"

"Two or three days ago."

"At a garage sale?"


"So why didn't you declare the firearm when you came through from 
Skagway into the Yukon?"

"Because I didn't have it then. I bought the rifle in Tok, on my way 
back to Skagway."

"When were you in Tok?"

"About two or three days ago."

"Sir, your story does not make sense; you're going to have to pull up 
and pull over there and park your van."

"OK," and I did as I was ordered. I parked my van, got out, and sat 
on the sidewalk, while I looked at my road atlas.

By this time, I was getting irritated at being interrogated so much, 
plus she had wasted almost one half of one hour of my time. By her 
questioning, she was implying that I had done something criminal and 
wrong, when I had not.

I waited about 20 minutes. Then she came out of her office and 
announced that she was going to search my van.

A couple of minutes into the search, she said I should go call my 
insurance company and have them fax a copy of my policy to the 
customs office. She then wrote down the fax number and handed it to me.

I was very uncomfortable with her searching my van without me being 
there. I don't know her. She is a stranger going through my 
belongings. She could have stolen something of mine in my absence (I 
had a lot of things in my van at the time).

But I walked into the customs office anyway and got on the telephone 
with my insurance company.

About half-way through my telephone call, she and two male customs 
officials approached me. She said I had to get off the phone 
immediately. So I did.

She then came closer and I could tell something was wrong because 
none of them was smiling. She then said I was under arrest for 
smuggling a firearm into Canada.

One of the other men came at me and ordered me to face the wall and 
put my hands behind my back, but not touching my back. I did so, and 
he handcuffed me like I was a criminal.

Then they took me from the payphone to their interrogation/detainment 
cell. This man then took my three knives and everything that was in 
my pockets and put it all into an evidence bag.

As he was doing this, the woman was reading me my rights and asking 
me if I understood them. I told her yes, I did.

She then asked me if I wanted to talk to a lawyer. I told her yes, I did.

They all then left the room and locked me inside, handcuffed, with my 
hands behind my back, like I was a criminal.

I sat there for some time until the other man came in and said I was 
actually just being detained because the woman had found some handgun 
bullets in my van, and they were looking for the handgun.

So now a second round of questions was asked of me, and this time it 
was the clean-shaven customs man who was doing the asking:

"Justin, just tell us where the gun is so we don't have search 
everything. Is there a gun in there?"

"I do not believe there is a gun in my van."

"That doesn't convince us."

"The reason I say 'I do not believe' is because during my road-trip, 
a friend who had a handgun and ammunition was in my van. When we 
parted in Glennallen on the way back to Skagway, from McCarthy, he 
said he took the handgun with him, but I never checked to see if he 
did indeed take it with him."

The customs man with the goatee then told me he thought I was an 
honest man but they still needed to search my van.

The woman then came into the cell with a telephone in her hand and 
said she had my lawyer on the phone, and she then handed me the telephone.

Since my hands were still hand-cuffed behind my back, I had to pinch 
the handset between my head and shoulder. They all then left the room 
so I could talk in private with my lawyer, who was in Whitehorse.

After a while, the goateed man came back in and the lawyer said to 
call her back. He then started accusing me of more crimes:

"Justin, we have reason to believe there are drugs in your van. Just 
tell us where the drugs are.

"Let me tell you it's a lot easier on you if you just tell us now 
where they are. We have drug dogs that are only a phone call away, 
and if we have to get the drug dogs in here, you will be worse-off 
than if you had just told us where the drugs are.

"It's part of the Canadian law that if you don't tell us where the 
drugs are, and we then find them, the penalty is greater than if you 
would have just told us in the first place where the drugs are. So 
Justin, where are the drugs?"

"There are no drugs in my van."

By this point in time, I was getting pretty tired of all the 
questioning, the accusations, the mean looks, the certainty in their 
voice that I was lying to them, having to repeat my story, and the 
customs officials wasting about three hours of my time so far.

The goateed man left and after a while, the clean-shaven man came in 
and unlocked my handcuffs.

Some more time went by until they came in and she said they were 
releasing me and all I had to do was call my insurance company and 
have them fax a copy of my policy to them.

So I went outside to where my van was parked and saw that my things 
were strewn about, some sitting on the pavement, some on the 
sidewalk, some things were still in my van and dry, others were 
outside and wet, since it was raining that night.

My van was packed full of things, so it took me 45 minutes to repack it.

I then went inside the customs office and the fax from the insurance 
company had just come through. It satisfied the stubborn woman.

I then requested to have my rifle, ammunition, and three knives back. 
She handed me the rifle, with the appropriate registration paperwork 
filled out. Then she said the other things were in a cardboard box 
that she had taped shut and was holding in her hands.

She walked out to my van with me and set the box inside the van as I 
put the rifle in the back. She said I was not to open the box until I 
exited Canada.

I told her I might have to open the box to see if my items were indeed inside.

She said: "They're in there! And if they're not, call the federal 
government." She slammed my van door shut and I drove away.

When I arrived at Skagway, I opened the cardboard box and found that 
my ammunition (about 15 bullets which were in a small green plastic 
box of their own) were absent. I later found the container with my 
ammunition elsewhere in my van.

The purpose of this letter is to convey the outrage I feel about the 
way I was treated when I attempted to cross the border into Canada. I 
was made to feel like a criminal.

I declared the only firearm I had, like any honest citizen would do. 
When I first pulled my van up to the window, she did not ask if I had 
any ammunition.

They accused, arrested, and detained me without any evidence. Only 
that they were sure I had a handgun in my van. There was no handgun.

They were sure I was carrying drugs in my van. There were no drugs.

I am an honest, law-abiding citizen and employee of the federal 
government with the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

I work just out of Skagway and live in Juneau during the summer and 
Fairbanks during the winter, with family in Washington State, so I 
constantly am crossing into and out of Canada and America.

The way I was treated was so unbelievable it is almost inconceivable. 
If this is the way tourists are treated when they attempt to cross 
the border, all the businesses on both sides of the border will 
suffer tremendous losses and possibly go out of business.

This abuse is hurting the local economy near the border, but also has 
an impact on business far from the border.

The tourists who face this kind of treatment will not come back to 
the Yukon Territory. They will tell their friends, family, and others 
about their treatment, and businesses that depend on tourists will be 
hurt. Some already have been

Abuse at the border must stop now; whether it be wrongful arrest and 
detainment or attempting to stare someone down and giving him the 
"evil eye" while asking absurd and irrelevant questions for half an 
hour makes no difference.

I was wronged and verbally abused for four hours that night. If I 
were a tourist, I would not be coming back for more.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine