Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS
Follow @theurbancountry on Twitter Find us on Facebook Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via e-mail Subscribe to theurbancountry.com via RSS

Canadian Cyclist Harassed At U.S. Border 24

US Customs

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers on the lookout for “terrorists” – Photo by Mateus_27

With the United States mulling over the possibility of building a fence across the Canada-US border and a Secretary of Homeland Security falsely claiming some of the 9/11 terrorists entered through Canada, it’s not surprising to hear about Canadians encountering hostile Customs agents while crossing the once-friendly border.

Nor is it surprising that the number of Customs and Border Protection officers working on the U.S.-Canada border has increased by 700% since September 11th, 2001.

The most recent example of overzealous pomp at the border resulted when a friend of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s crossed the border from British Columbia to Washington state on a train with his bicycle in tow.

The Customs officer berated Mikael’s friend for not bringing a helmet with him. Here is part of the correspondence:

Guard 2: “Where are you going?”
Me: “Seattle”
G2: “Where’s your helmet?”
Me: “I didn’t bring it.”
G2: “You ride without one?”
Me: “Depends on the situation.”
G2: “Are you aware that it’s the law in the state of Washington?” (Ed: It’s not, he’s wrong)
Me: “I wasn’t aware of this.”
G2: “So, you were planning to break the law on purpose?”
Me: “I had no intention of doing so.”
G2: “Do you think I should let you in to my country knowing that you intend on breaking the law?”

Mikael asks whether Customs officers ever berate car drivers because the speedometer on their cars far exceed any speed limit in the United States? Should these car drivers be denied entry on the basis that they might break the law in their cars?

I have travelled extensively throughout the United States and I have indeed seen a fair share of egotistical, hostile or simply cold Customs agents, but I have also seen a whole lot of really nice customs officers too, so I can’t generalize one way or the other. However, the hostility towards Mikael’s friend is indicative of the general hostility North Americans often have towards cyclists.

Nowhere is this more apparent than here in Toronto where our penny-pinching mayor thought it was appropriate to spend $400,000 to tear out 3 bike lanes on three separate streets that had all been installed within the last three years.

Meanwhile, a key ally of the mayor recently proposed licensing cyclists (an idea which has already been debunked by the city itself). The same penny-pinching mayor rescinded a $60/year vehicle tax while cutting transit service and hiking transit fees by more than $78/year for an average transit rider.

The most recent “bicycle infrastructure” to be installed in Toronto are nut-cracking bicycle speed bumps along a two-car-lane-wide multi-use path that were installed to “slow down” cyclists because of complaints from pedestrians.

The car and oil industry is scared shitless that car usage has peaked, people are driving less, and families are living comfortably car-free.

As people flock to different modes of transportation to avoid the imprisonment of automobiles, the media will further marginalize people who don’t drive in attempt to shame them into driving, just as we saw in a recent GM ad which placed a dorky guy on a bicycle to try to convince college students to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to buy a new car so they wouldn’t have to look like the dork on the bicycle.

But they forgot to mention that their car will probably be worthless by the time they pay off the loan (not to mention their insurance payments, gas costs, repairs, licensing, parking, traffic congestion, stress, etc.)

The border agent who chastised Mikael’s friend for not having a helmet is simply a product of a society that is created by car culture. Not out of necessity, but out of desperation to sell more cars, sell more gas, insurance and everything else that comes along with car culture.

In the end, the customs officer let Mikael’s friend proceed on his journey into the United States without a foam-laced plastic bicycle helmet. On one condition: that he buy a helmet as soon as his train arrives in Seattle.

If only we were so diligent and thorough with car drivers when they cross the border to force them to drive under the maximum speed limit.

Read the full correspondence on Copenhagenize.com

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

Related Articles:

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Ἀντισθένης

    I am fortunate that my work does not require me to go to the US, because after dealing with traffic jams at the border, and their onerous airport security, BEFORE 9/11, I have found the best solution: never go there again.
    http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-personal-quarantine-of-america.html

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Ἀντισθένης

    I am fortunate that my work does not require me to go to the US, because after dealing with traffic jams at the border, and their onerous airport security, BEFORE 9/11, I have found the best solution: never go there again.
    http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-personal-quarantine-of-america.html

  • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    It’s been almost 20 years since I went to the USA last. My Dad and I use to park at the Skylon tower and walk over to Niagara Falls (NY). Border guards back then were always friendly.

    As for what’s going on in Toronto? Makes me happy I live in St. Catharines. The north end has plenty of cycle lanes, everything is close by, motorists are for the most part courteous and our winters aren’t as bad!
    Although our mayor has made some mistakes with regards to cycling infrastructure (partial removal of a bike lane), he fully supports cycling and tries to encourage it.

    • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Ἀντισθένης

      Well… I went to Brock for my B.Ed and I did not find it that bike friendly. This is a decade back. Biking up to Brock was not only hard work, but not owning a car in that town was a bigger stigma than any I could have got based on a sexuality.

      • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

        Agreed. I grew up in Niagara and didn’t find it to be particularly bike friendly except for a wide range of great bike paths that are mostly recreational (Niagara River, Welland Canal, various rail trails, etc).

        Despite Toronto’s flaws politically, bicycling is still the best way to get around here…

      • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

        Going up the escarpment is difficult, and from a University (and college) stand point both Brock and Niagara are located in terrible spots. Brock up on a “hill” and Niagara in the middle of no where. I have no reason to go to either place mind you.
        As long as the Canal trail is open, I do see many students cycling to Niagara.

        The south end of the city isn’t the best for cycling as things are spread out, but it has improved over the years with regards to more bike lanes (especially since I lived in the area).
        One of the bigger issues I find with the south end is you have a lot of out of town students who have no clue how to drive.

        The West end is fairly spread out as most new stores are built here now (as well as the cities new hospital). Some roads have bike lanes and the ones that don’t are quite wide. I’m always amazed when I’m in the west end at just how many people are using bikes.

        I live in the north end (north of the QEW) and it’s outstanding! It’s pretty well completely flat, most major roads have bike lanes, and pretty well what ever you need is in the north end so everything is close by.

        I’ve been riding for around 7 or 8 years and can’t say I’ve ever encountered a stigma of not owning a car here.
        On Friday I was talking to a librarian (who I deal with on a regular basis), and I had to show ID for an address check, so I showed the new Ontario ID card. She was thrilled about it because nearly everyone of her close friends don’t have a drivers license. She also indicated she deals with many daily at the library who don’t have a drivers license. Although vehicle ownership is still quite high here, it’s not viewed as uncommon to not own a car.
        It tends to be those who move here from other cities that find it odd.

        Elsewhere in Niagara I’d agree it isn’t at all good for cycling.
        The tourist spots in Niagara Falls actually aren’t bad, however for residents riding in other parts of the city it’s terrible.
        Welland has some strong points, but the closest I’ve ever been passed was in Welland (within a 1cm with the van doing 70kph).
        Fort Erie/Port Colborne seems to be where most who phone in on the radio live who are against bikes, but there at the complete opposite end of the region from me.

        All-in-all, St. Catharines since 2009 has drastically improved for people riding bikes.

  • http://thecitycyclist.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    It’s been almost 20 years since I went to the USA last. My Dad and I use to park at the Skylon tower and walk over to Niagara Falls (NY). Border guards back then were always friendly.

    As for what’s going on in Toronto? Makes me happy I live in St. Catharines. The north end has plenty of cycle lanes, everything is close by, motorists are for the most part courteous and our winters aren’t as bad!
    Although our mayor has made some mistakes with regards to cycling infrastructure (partial removal of a bike lane), he fully supports cycling and tries to encourage it.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Ἀντισθένης

    Well… I went to Brock for my B.Ed and I did not find it that bike friendly. This is a decade back. Biking up to Brock was not only hard work, but not owning a car in that town was a bigger stigma than any I could have got based on a sexuality.

  • Jesse

    Let me tell you a funny story about US Customs and bicycles.

    Last March I drove from my home in Buffalo up to Toronto to buy a Pashley Roadster at Curbside Cycle (this is the closest place where I could see and test ride one before buying).

    The ride home on the Gardiner and QEW with the heavy bicycle precariously secured to the trunk rack was, shall we say, exhilarating, so I was already full of adrenaline when I arrived at the border.

    “Anything to declare?”

    “Well, I bought this bicycle. Here’s the receipt.”

    That really confused the border guard. “Why did you have to buy it in Toronto? You couldn’t get it here?” “Is it for your own personal use, or are you reselling it?” “Why does it cost so much?” (And I don’t really think $1,500 is all that much for a high-end bicycle!)

    So I was instructed to park my car and come into the customs office while they figured out what to do with me. I was nervous about the duty and also nervous about the possibility of the bike being stolen off the back of my car while I was inside.

    They kept me there for about half an hour, with about eight guys gathered around a computer, trying to figure out which duty category applies to it. “Where was it manufactured?” Apparently that would make a difference under NAFTA.

    I was dreading that they would charge me $400 or something and that I would have been far better off just ordering the bike sight unseen from a shop in New York City. Or wishing I had just kept my mouth shut at the inspection booth, but I’m never really comfortable trying to pull one over men who carry loaded handguns.

    Eventually, I was called to the counter and charged a grand total of… $22.50. “We found two categories that could apply so we charged you the lower amount.”

    I paid and got the hell out of there as fast as I could. I felt nearly sick in the car afterwards from the post-adrenaline acid stomach, but at the same time I thought it was pretty funny that they much have spent more money in salary time for all of the customs officials to figure out what to do with me than they received from me.

    Apropos to this post, everyone there was quite polite and reasonable, with the exception of the perplexed guard at the inspection booth who didn’t know what to do with me and asked annoying questions like “Why does it cost so much?”

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Thanks for the story Jesse. You should have told him the bike was so expensive because the frame was packed with illegal drugs. Or not ;)

  • Jesse

    Let me tell you a funny story about US Customs and bicycles.

    Last March I drove from my home in Buffalo up to Toronto to buy a Pashley Roadster at Curbside Cycle (this is the closest place where I could see and test ride one before buying).

    The ride home on the Gardiner and QEW with the heavy bicycle precariously secured to the trunk rack was, shall we say, exhilarating, so I was already full of adrenaline when I arrived at the border.

    “Anything to declare?”

    “Well, I bought this bicycle. Here’s the receipt.”

    That really confused the border guard. “Why did you have to buy it in Toronto? You couldn’t get it here?” “Is it for your own personal use, or are you reselling it?” “Why does it cost so much?” (And I don’t really think $1,500 is all that much for a high-end bicycle!)

    So I was instructed to park my car and come into the customs office while they figured out what to do with me. I was nervous about the duty and also nervous about the possibility of the bike being stolen off the back of my car while I was inside.

    They kept me there for about half an hour, with about eight guys gathered around a computer, trying to figure out which duty category applies to it. “Where was it manufactured?” Apparently that would make a difference under NAFTA.

    I was dreading that they would charge me $400 or something and that I would have been far better off just ordering the bike sight unseen from a shop in New York City. Or wishing I had just kept my mouth shut at the inspection booth, but I’m never really comfortable trying to pull one over men who carry loaded handguns.

    Eventually, I was called to the counter and charged a grand total of… $22.50. “We found two categories that could apply so we charged you the lower amount.”

    I paid and got the hell out of there as fast as I could. I felt nearly sick in the car afterwards from the post-adrenaline acid stomach, but at the same time I thought it was pretty funny that they much have spent more money in salary time for all of the customs officials to figure out what to do with me than they received from me.

    Apropos to this post, everyone there was quite polite and reasonable, with the exception of the perplexed guard at the inspection booth who didn’t know what to do with me and asked annoying questions like “Why does it cost so much?”

  • Dr J

    The fact that the police or border officer doesn’t know basic laws in his own county is ridiculous but it happens in many places. I guess one of the reasons for it is the increase in number of officers “by 700% since September 11th, 2001″. It is likely that they are not trained well and were quickly hired as a part of “war on terror”.

    You see, if you live in U.S., be American. Drive a car (a pick-up truck!), eat hamburgers, live in fear and not try anything stupid like riding a bicycle to work. And all of you gay, French cycling vegetarians better stay home. ;)


    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/

  • Dr J

    The fact that the police or border officer doesn’t know basic laws in his own county is ridiculous but it happens in many places. I guess one of the reasons for it is the increase in number of officers “by 700% since September 11th, 2001″. It is likely that they are not trained well and were quickly hired as a part of “war on terror”.

    You see, if you live in U.S., be American. Drive a car (a pick-up truck!), eat hamburgers, live in fear and not try anything stupid like riding a bicycle to work. And all of you gay, French cycling vegetarians better stay home. ;)


    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/

  • John Rawlins

    I know it’s easy to make fun of the poor old Americans with their paranoid view of the world. However, the Canadian border can be an unpleasant place for legitimate travellers. I have often crossed the border from the US to Canada on my British passport and the Canadian officials are often, but not always, off-hand and rude. My father, a Canadian, always said that you should never smile at the Canadian border.

    • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Ἀντισθένης

      “off-hand and rude”? You must have been coming back into Ontario.

  • John Rawlins

    I know it’s easy to make fun of the poor old Americans with their paranoid view of the world. However, the Canadian border can be an unpleasant place for legitimate travellers. I have often crossed the border from the US to Canada on my British passport and the Canadian officials are often, but not always, off-hand and rude. My father, a Canadian, always said that you should never smile at the Canadian border.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Thanks for the story Jesse. You should have told him the bike was so expensive because the frame was packed with illegal drugs. Or not ;)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Agreed. I grew up in Niagara and didn’t find it to be particularly bike friendly except for a wide range of great bike paths that are mostly recreational (Niagara River, Welland Canal, various rail trails, etc).

    Despite Toronto’s flaws politically, bicycling is still the best way to get around here…

  • http://scintillator.wordpress.com/ KristinMH

    Not wanting to deal with the border was a big reason Ben went over Superior rather than under it whrn he biked from Toronto to Saskatoon last year. If those guys want to they will fuck with you for absolutely no reason. Better take a few extra days that put up with it.

    Also the north shore of Superior is gorgeous, but the hills are murder. And there are bears.

  • http://thecitycyclist.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    Going up the escarpment is difficult, and from a University (and college) stand point both Brock and Niagara are located in terrible spots. Brock up on a “hill” and Niagara in the middle of no where. I have no reason to go to either place mind you.
    As long as the Canal trail is open, I do see many students cycling to Niagara.

    The south end of the city isn’t the best for cycling as things are spread out, but it has improved over the years with regards to more bike lanes (especially since I lived in the area).
    One of the bigger issues I find with the south end is you have a lot of out of town students who have no clue how to drive.

    The West end is fairly spread out as most new stores are built here now (as well as the cities new hospital). Some roads have bike lanes and the ones that don’t are quite wide. I’m always amazed when I’m in the west end at just how many people are using bikes.

    I live in the north end (north of the QEW) and it’s outstanding! It’s pretty well completely flat, most major roads have bike lanes, and pretty well what ever you need is in the north end so everything is close by.

    I’ve been riding for around 7 or 8 years and can’t say I’ve ever encountered a stigma of not owning a car here.
    On Friday I was talking to a librarian (who I deal with on a regular basis), and I had to show ID for an address check, so I showed the new Ontario ID card. She was thrilled about it because nearly everyone of her close friends don’t have a drivers license. She also indicated she deals with many daily at the library who don’t have a drivers license. Although vehicle ownership is still quite high here, it’s not viewed as uncommon to not own a car.
    It tends to be those who move here from other cities that find it odd.

    Elsewhere in Niagara I’d agree it isn’t at all good for cycling.
    The tourist spots in Niagara Falls actually aren’t bad, however for residents riding in other parts of the city it’s terrible.
    Welland has some strong points, but the closest I’ve ever been passed was in Welland (within a 1cm with the van doing 70kph).
    Fort Erie/Port Colborne seems to be where most who phone in on the radio live who are against bikes, but there at the complete opposite end of the region from me.

    All-in-all, St. Catharines since 2009 has drastically improved for people riding bikes.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Ἀντισθένης

    “off-hand and rude”? You must have been coming back into Ontario.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Ἀντισθένης
  • Safdarali083

    Cycling is the best hobby. One of its importance is you will be healthy and smart.

    Car Trailers For Sale