Day 37: Stuck at the Canadian Border

I made myself a delicious breakfast at my friend Chanell’s house while she kept me company, trying not to throw up from morning sickness. I felt so had for her. I could see the nausea she was going through and she still had to care for two small children. She was a trooper.

Once I left Chanell’s house, I drove north towards Vancouver.

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I got to the Canadian border around 3:30 pm. With excitement, I drove up to the drive-through window when it was my turn.

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The middle-aged man asked me all sorts of questions as I handed over my passport.

“Where do you live?” – Los Angeles

“What do you do for a living?” – Well, I used to be an operations manager, lol.

Used to be?” – Yeah, I quit my job and sold my house so I can travel.

“How much money do you have access to?” Um, that seems personal.

“Credit cards?” – Yes. I have plenty of money.

“What are you doing in Canada?” – I’m driving the Alaska highway to Alaska!

“How long will you be in Canada?” – Um, a few weeks as I drive up north.

“Do you have any weapons? Guns? Knives?” – I have a small backpacking knife.

“Pepper spray?” – Oh yes, I do have a small thing of pepper spray.

“That’s illegal in Canada.” – Oh, I didn’t know. I can give it to you (digging through my purse)

“No, you need to pull your car over there. We’re going to search your entire car.”  – But I can give it to you right now…once I find it.

“No, pull your car over there and go inside.”

Oh no. I had no idea pepper spray was illegal in Canada. I parked my car and went inside the building. I stood in the line for Americans (I was the only one) and nervously looked around at the immigration officers who now seemed unfriendly.

Definitely trying to intimidate me, the officer called me to the desk and asked for my passport. I explained I didn’t know pepper spray was illegal. I never carry it on me but as I was packing up my house, I saw a bottle in a drawer I had forgotten about. I purchased it years ago but figured since I was a single female traveling alone, I’d bring it with me. I was now regretting that decision.

I was told to sit down in the waiting area while they searched my car and took my pepper spray. I started freaking out while sitting in the hard, plastic chair. I thought, “What else do I have in my car that’s illegal? I don’t know Canada’s laws. OMG, am I not getting into Canada? I just want to turn around. What if there is something else in there and they detain me? Every time I travel, I meet a Canadian and they’re always nice. But these guys are not nice.”

There was a TV in the corner with no sound and of course, a hockey game was on. The other 20 people sitting there were all Asian or Middle Eastern. A guy next to me was sending a text to someone and asked me how to spell immigration.I feel you, dude, I thought. I helped him and asked why he was there. He replied, “My visa expired.” I said, “Oh. I brought in pepper spray, which is illegal apparently.”

I didn’t have cell service (I think they purposely block signals) so I couldn’t search for Canadian laws. I noticed the agent who had helped me was on the phone at the counter. Thoughts raced through my head, “Oh no, who’s he talking to? What’s happening?

After 30 painstaking minutes, my name was called so I headed to the desk. “You also had apples in your car. You cannot bring them into Canada. I put them on your hood and you need to throw them away”, he said.

“So I can go?” I asked.

He lightened up, “You need to sign off on the pepper spray. Did you want to pick it up when you leave, or have us dispose of it?”

“You can dispose of it.”

“You know, this probably cost you $10 in the States. But it costs us $50-$60 to dispose of it properly in an environmentally friendly way.”

“Sorry?”

“Bear spray is legal. But not people pepper spray.”

“Really? That’s funny. In California, bear spray is illegal and people pepper spray is legal.”

I headed to my car and threw the apples away as the officers watched me. I felt relieved but also still shook up. It’s not a good feeling when you think you’re about to be detained. I am a law-abiding citizen, and I respect law enforcement. Being made to feel like a criminal felt horrible. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I always meet Canadians when I travel and I’ve always thought they were so nice. I wondered, “Are the border patrol agents tired of the “nice” reputation so they overcompensate and intimidate people?” At any rate, I would end up crossing the border many times and each time I was nervous because of this incident.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

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