I Am Not a Mule!

Once I got used to the sounds at the truck stop last night I was able to have a good night. I was up pretty early and decided to just make a run for the border since there’s a major winter storm watch for southern Alberta this weekend! I had thought to overnight between the border and Lethbridge, but it made more sense to get squared away at my destination before the first flakes fell.

It was about an hour and a half to the crossing at Sweetgrass/Coutts and about a half hour to get to the head of the line to make my declaration. I was asked the usual questions about how much I had to declare, booze, narcotics, firearms, money over $10,000, etc., in addition to how long I was in the States and where I’d gone. I was told to pull over and go into the building. I’d declared well over my limit, so I figured I’d get a visit to the cashier and be on my way.

It was about a ten minute wait inside and then I got called up to the counter by a woman who greeted me warmly, asking me how my day was going. But her voice turned to ice when she saw the yellow slip I’d been giving by the lady in the booth. “We want to have a look at your vehicles. Pull a u-ey and go up to bay door number three then wait for instructions.”

Okay, I’d been expecting an inspection, but the tone of voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I went back to the rig, managed to ‘pull a u-ey’ and got lined up at bay door number three where I sat for about five minutes. The doors finally opened and I was directed inside.

This customs official asked me pretty much the same questions as the lady in the booth, but always coming back to “Have you had any modifications made to these vehicles?” He kept his tone light and conversational. I waited for him to make his point so I could finally figure out what was going on!

Finally, he said, and I quote: “I’m not going to bullshit you. You’ve had a lot of activity in southern BC in the last three years. Plenty of short runs back and forth across the border with your car. Now, you’ve come across in this huge vehicle along the drug routes. Are you aware of the drug trade between California and BC?”

Drugs! I am so bloody innocent that thought never even occurred to me!

He proceeded to give me a five minute information session on the drug trade between California and BC, saying that cocaine is the worst. He showed me a vehicle they had seized recently that had been modified to hide drugs. He explained to me how drugs are brought across the border. Then he asked me if I knew how sniffer dogs work. I didn’t, so he explained it to me.

Then: “The dogs are going to be available in the next hour or so. When they go through your rig are they going to find anything?”

Of course I have no narcotics, firearms, or laundered money on board, but he said it well: “The dogs don’t speak English. If they find something, even if it turns out to be completely innocent, we go digging.”

I suddenly had this vision of my rig being torn apart.

So much for being completely honest, forthright, and up front. Canadian Customs ALWAYS assumes that you are guilty of something. They could learn something from the US officials.

He continued to ask me questions about my lifestyle, my job, my friends, my family (did I know of any of them caught for trafficking?!). Always keeping that even, almost friendly, tone, but I didn’t buy any of it.

“So,” he continued, breaking my train of thought. “Do you have cocaine on board?”

I looked him straight in the eye. “No.”

“When our dogs go through are they going to smell narcotics, firearms, or money that has been involved in the drug trade?”

Again, I looked at him squarely. “No.”

He nodded. “Okay, I’m going to open the bay door now. Pull ahead, get clear of the building, and merge into traffic. You’ll be back on the highway. Have a good day.”

My opinion of CBSA is not fit for print.

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  • Ugh, yet another horror story. At least you didn’t actually get your rig torn to pieces (and left that way for you to clean up). Congratulations for that!

    Without a very compelling reason (i.e. not just tourism) I’m not likely to ever attempt the border into Canada. Not worth the anticipation stress, much less an actual horror story of my own.

  • I wish my husband would read these stories. I know I’m going to have big fight with him about the gun he will want to have in the rig. No problem unless we want to go to Canada, or pass thru to Alaska.

    I wonder how sculptures and materials will be viewed. I hope to be able to work on the road, but if we want to drive thru Canada will I have to store them or what.

    I keep thinking about the CDs you had to dump.

  • Ted: it’s actually starting to be funny. I felt like Cary Grant in North by Northwest; caught up in a plot I knew nothing about. And they neglected to charge me taxes and duty on what I was bringing in, so it was worth it. 🙂

    Merikay: no problem bringing long guns into Canada (shotguns, rifles); they just need to be declared. Very simple process. But forget handguns! Leave them behind. And be sure to let customs know that you had some on board in case they bring the dogs in (“Do you have firearms on board?” “Not at present.”) because the dogs would smell their presence.

    As for your artwork, it depends on if it’s a hobby or a business. If it’s a business, I’d proceed carefully.

    To both: crossing into another country is a risk, but one that can be calculated. I think it’s worth it.

  • Well, I agree it is not a pleasant experience but we have had similar experiences crossing into the US so its not only CBSA. Last time they went through the rig & basement and removed a nearly full $79 bag of prescription dog food.
    As long as it was polite and professional, as you say “even” & “friendly”.
    Did you manage to get past the cashier unscathed?!
    We still have our crossing coming up…always a nervous moment.

  • I hate to say it, but dog food confiscating is fair enough; it’s one of the toughest thing to bring across the border. I made sure to declare the pet food in both directions.

    I never did end up at the cashier!

  • Oops, just read your response to Ted, so I know the answer to my question!

  • Well, their stupid suspicions cost them a few dollars in money you legitimately owed them. Tough luck for them. You have an honest face…

    We got pulled into the X-ray building coming out of Mexico last year and had to move more than 500 feet from the building while they blew gamma rays through the rig looking for ??. Then two dogs had a great time sniffing the motorhome like it was their buddy’s rear end. They found a two inch tall cactus that a nice Mexican couple had given us to take home.

    I never actually mind being searched, questioned, X-rayed or what have you. There is a terrible drug problem and if my spending a half hour helps in any way to solve it I have no problem. They could be nicer about it though but I suspect the questions and attitude are all scientifically designed to tell them something. You evidently passed whatever test they were giving you.

    Welcome back to Canada, eh?

  • Did they take your cactus?

    What I resent are threats. Search me if you want, don’t make me sit there and sweat. Which I know is the whole point; I’ve had training conducting these same sorts of interviews. I just find it sad that the US was willing to trust me while my country automatically assumes that I’m a criminal.

  • Yes, after a lecture, they took it! I pleaded with them for the hand made pot which they finally retrieved from the garbage can and washed. Ah, the life of an international criminal!

  • I don’t know, like Croft I don’t blame them. The US border patrol has been far worse to me than Canada ever has. I have held onto a boycott of the US for several years now, and hope to never travel there again. Even though I have family there. One time two of them yelled at me, like actual shouting at me! They yelled that I was a liar, but I wasn’t lying at all.

    I guess we all have our own unique experiences.

  • […] As for the repairs/modification question, it’s only as it pertains to work that could create secret compartments for stashing drugs. They don’t care if you get your brakes done but let them know if you had a safe welded to the frame! This is almost verbatim from the customs idiot who interrogated me last spring. […]

  • […] you believe that my secondary inspection guy looked like the secondary inspection guy who interrogated me at Coutts? Just a mini version of him, shorter and less […]

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