November 26, 2002

U.S. Border Checks

It’s like we’ve turned back the clocks and the Japanese are being
hauled off to internment camps again. Except now, it’s Muslims, Arabs,
and anyone else who “looks” Muslim. Of course Muslims haven’t
been hauled off to internment camps just yet—although some may argue that
being arrested, detained and interrogated without a lawyer is the first step—but
Canadian Arabs and Muslims are outraged at being the victims of current border
“checks” being initiated by the United States that seem to single
out, if not specifically target Muslims and Arabs. 

After September 11th it’s expected and even welcome that extra security
measures be implemented at the Canada-U.S. border to ensure the safety of all
citizens—the key word in this sentence is all, but recent events at American
airports and border crossings seem to be pledging to ensure the safety of every
citizen from all Muslim and Arab citizens.

After Muslim Canadians began to complain that they were receiving increased
scrutiny at the American border despite their Canadian citizenship, U.S. Ambassador
Paul Cellucci reassured the Canadian government that Canadian citizens would
not be victim to increased scrutiny at the border. It seems that Cellucci and
Attorney General John Ashcroft haven’t had a chat in a while because on
Thursday, November 7 2002 Ashcroft revealed that not only will Canadians receive
scrutiny at the border, but if their country of origin is one of the countries
on a list of “terrorist sponsoring countries” compiled by the United
States, they will face increased scrutiny despite their Canadian citizenship.
For many, this may seem rather trivial. Big deal right? These are only necessary
precautions that the United States has a right to take in order to protect their
country—right? Well that depends entirely on what “increased scrutiny”
is and what it’s based on—and from the looks of it, it’s not
pretty.

First and foremost, if you’re a Canadian and you’re not Muslim,
not Arab, weren’t born in a country that’s on “the list”
and you’re not a person who say “looks” Muslim, then you don’t
have to worry about any “increased scrutiny”. You’re as free
as a bird—aside from regular post 9-11 security checks at the border.
If you are any of the above, then yep, you’re pretty much in for some
freaky times. “Increased scrutiny” translates into American Border-Crossing
Hell. Beyond the usual passport check, Arab-Muslim-dual citizen-Canadians whose
country of origin is either Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya or Sudan, as well as Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been searched, photographed, finger-printed, have
had the contents of their address books photocopied and have been interrogated
for up to eight hours, and in some cases refused entry into the country without
sufficient reason as to why. Although General Ashcroft claims that this new
security policy “…is not racial profiling. It is not based on ethnic
criterion or religious criterion. It is based on intelligence data and the list
of nations provided from the state sponsors of terrorism,” the new American
policy itself seems to starkly contrast these claims. Many Muslim-Canadians
will staunchly argue that the policy’s foundations are at root anti-Islam,
racist and are indeed based on religious criterion. The choice to single out
specific countries that are predominantly Muslim, label them as terrorist sponsors
and single out people from those countries claiming that they could be potential
terrorists by simply being born in that country is proof in itself that someone
can be guilty not even by association, but by birth, religion and race.

And the U.S.—Canada border isn’t the only hellhole to be wary of.
There are American airports, where it seems any person that minutely resembles
a Muslim is subject to “random” security checks. The intensity of
these security checks varies but most will agree, that they are nonetheless
humiliating. Again, one can expect stepped-up security checks after September
11th, but one cannot accept checks based solely on race or religiosity. Rohinton
Mistry, an acclaimed Canadian author who is not Muslim, and who’s country
of origin is India—not one of the countries on the list, called off the
rest of his American Book Tour after he and his wife were repeatedly stopped
at American airports for so called “random” security checks. If
he’s not Muslim, not from one of the “suspicious” countries,
what could possibly possess American officials to not just once or twice, but
continually stop Mistry and his wife and search them? Why, it’s the colour
of skin of course. Darker tones suggest darker thoughts—hence, potential
terrorists, didn’t you know?

So what are the folks up in Ottawa doing about this? Well Chretien has called
it quits before the battle has even begun. When told that landed immigrants
in Canada (along with Canadian citizens with different countries of origin)
would be subject to increased scrutiny at the border, our Prime Minister revealed
at a press conference, “if they (referring to citizens of Commonwealth
countries) do not have a Canadian passport, it’s no longer my problem.
It’s their problem.” The problem is; American legislation that would
make it more difficult for Canadian landed immigrants who are citizens of Commonwealth
countries to enter the United States is very selective. One can be sure that
landed immigrants from Commonwealth countries like Britain, Australia and New
Zealand will not be scrutinized at the border, but landed immigrants from countries
like India or Pakistan can get their fingers ready for some hard-core finger
printing and tough times. Again, it’s the darker tone, darker thoughts
theory.

You know, if the Canadian government would just stop kissing the butts of the
American government long enough to realize what’s happening to their own
citizens, they may just realize that upon receiving their fat pay checks, it’s
also their responsibility to protect the rights of Canadian citizens no matter
what their country of origin. If not, does Canadian citizenship really mean
anything, or should we all just wear little nametags that let people know our
ethnic origins and religion so people can screen potential “terrorists”
for themselves? It all comes down to Canadian values and the clock turning back.
Are our values so wane and insignificant that we aren’t willing to stop
history from repeating itself? Have we turned back the clocks, forgetting that
judgement based solely on race and religion in today’s society will inevitably
lead to dire consequences? In light of recent events, it seems our government
has, I hope that the Canadian people haven’t.

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