It’s good that I’m not doing video today, because I’m all kinds of sadness and rage today.
There’s a tremendous amount of craziness going on in the U.S. and Mexico. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, then, you’re just not paying attention.
But I want to talk about something that won’t hit the news today: Canada.
This was brought on by events that happened to a dear friend.
I’m really so tired of Canada being perceived as this gentle and benevolent relative, the sweetly nutty “good cop” to the U.S.’s “bad cop.”
Here’s the excerpt from the Canada section of my show. You should take a seat, because it is definitely not short and sweet.
The summer of 2006, R went to Canada, to Toronto. He answered an ad on craigslist for a man I’ll call Steven who was looking for a Mexican to come and do carpentry and construction work on his house. Steven got R a direct flight to Toronto, because R can’t even change planes in the US. He entered Canada without a problem, using a letter of invitation from Steven. He worked off the books for a few months, earned some good money, had a great time, came home happy.
Steven really liked R’s work, and he invited him to come back again the next summer, the summer of 2007. Everything was the same, the direct flight from Mexico, the letter of invitation.
R got off the plane and arrived to the immigration area at the Pearson International Airport, in Toronto. A Canadian immigration official asked R if he’d ever been arrested. R was nervous. He said no. He figured that he’d never been arrested in Mexico, where he was coming from, or Canada, where he was going to. And his pride got a little bit in the way as well.
The immigration official told him to take a seat.
In 2006, R was not asked by Canadian immigration officials if he’d ever been arrested. R had time to think when he was sitting in that chair, and when the official who stopped him walked by, R said, “You know, I thought about your question and I have been arrested, but in 1993, in the United States.” “I know,” the official said, “It came up on my screen.”
Now R started to get nervous. There was a group of Mexican men, detained from the two flights that came in from Mexico City.
The immigration official escorted R down to baggage claim.
On the way down R did a last-ditch attempt and said to the official, “You know, I entered Canada last year without any problems and I had a great time in your country.” “Yeah,” the official said, “Whoever let you in last year was not doing their job.”
R picked up his luggage, and the customs agent asked him if he’d ever been arrested and now R knew the right answer: Yes, in 1993 in the United States.
The customs agent ran a swab all over R’s suitcase. He analyzed the results. Who else has been in possession of this luggage? he asked R.
A week before, I came to the States, Colorado, and my mother’s house in New York. Then the suitcase came back with me to Mexico, and I put it up on the shelf in our closet, where it always went.
The customs agent said, “Your suitcase is testing positive for traces of cocaine.”
Now, I don’t do cocaine. R doesn’t do cocaine. My mother doesn’t do cocaine. Set-up? I don’t rule out that possibility.
R was escorted back upstairs to the immigration area. All of the men were taken into a small room, one by one. When R entered that room, he was told to sign the documents that were on the table. R refused. The Canadian immigration officials were surprised. He was the only one from the group of detained men who said no. They thought that he didn’t understand English.
An interpreter told him in Spanish that he had to sign the documents. R answered in English that he would not sign them. He was escorted out of the room.
All of the men, except for R, signed the documents. All of the men, except for R were handcuffed and paraded out through the International Arrivals exit, where they were taken to a Canadian jail for the night. R was not given an explanation as to why he didn’t go with the group. R was only told to stay seated on his plastic chair.
Apart from the fact that R didn’t sign any documents that day, he and I both think he was treated differently because of Steven, the guy R was going to work for. On his letter of invitation, it stated that Steven worked for one of the biggest banks in Canada. Steven is also a well-dressed white male, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
And he kept checking up on R. He either spoke to the Canadian immigration officials in person, or called them on his Blackberry. No one else in the group of detained men had someone checking after them.
So we feel that Canadian immigration officials did not want to push R to sign any documents that day, because then he would be paraded handcuffed, through the International Arrivals exit, where blonde-haired, blue-eyed well-dressed banker Steven could see him.
R was forced to stay seated on that plastic chair all night. He wasn’t given any food or water. When the air conditioning came on full blast at 3:30 in the morning, he wasn’t given any type of covering. He got a rash around his waist for sitting for so many hours.
I received a call from Steven around midnight in Mexico. He told me that R was not allowed to enter Canada, he didn’t know why. I truly started to panic. I knew how things could turn on a dime, and half an hour later your husband is handcuffed, in a prison uniform, behind bullet proof glass.
At first light, I called my Canadian friends, and we all started calling around. If you ever need to call the Detention Center at Pearson International Airport, be prepared to be sent directly to voice mail, no matter what time you call, no matter how many times you call.
When my Canadian friends tried other numbers, they were told they couldn’t be given any information, because they weren’t family. When I tried those same numbers I was told that I couldn’t be given any information because I couldn’t prove that I was R’s wife.
8am, 9am, 10am, the day after R left Mexico and I don’t know where my husband is. I finally called the Mexican consulate in Toronto, and a representative called me back quickly and told me that R was indeed on a flight back to Mexico City that would arrive at 12:30 in the afternoon.
The Mexican men who were sent to prison overnight were brought back to the airport in the morning. Many of them had never been in prison before; they were scared out of their minds and hadn’t slept. They were surprised to see R, still sitting there on a plastic chair.
R had to sign one document, if he was to leave Canada that day-a voluntary removal form.
If R didn’t sign that document, that voluntary removal form, then he’d have the “choice” to contest the fact that he wasn’t allowed to enter Canada. He’d go to jail for approximately two weeks and then go before a Canadian immigration judge. Depending on how the judge ruled, he’d either go back to Canadian jail, or be deported from Canada. Obviously, there wasn’t really a choice. He signed the form.
R was escorted to the gate to board the plane by the same Canadian immigration official who had detained him the day before. And he appeared to have a change of heart. “Listen,” he said, “get the police report of your arrest from 1993, and depending on the immigration officer, you could enter Canada as early as tomorrow afternoon.”
R just stared at him. Burned holes with his eyes. “What would make you think I’d ever want to come back to Canada again?”
R came back home broken, angry and ashamed. He said that he needed to get out for a while, to clear his head. He went to work in Ciudad Juárez, for three weeks in construction, under that burning sun and whip-like sandstorms. I finally begged him to come home, and he came back quietly, making sure not to slam our front door when he arrived.
In the summer of 2007, R didn’t try to enter the United States. At this level of the game, that wouldn’t have made any sense. He tried to enter Canada, a country that had welcomed him with open arms just the year before. The issue of him working off the books never came up. It was all about his arrest from 1993 in the US.
Canada supposedly has its own set of policies and procedures for handling detained immigrants. When we were looking for R, my friends assured me that Canada was not the United States. Sure, immigrants were detained, but they were taken to an average hotel, they had a bed, a shower, and a meal.
Granted, there was a guard outside the door, but they were treated humanely. Canada, was not the US. Many Canadians often smugly pride themselves for not being the US’s lackey on the world’s playground.
What does this mean for the future? If we want to visit England one day, will R not be allowed in because England is in a political relationship with the US, and something will come up on the airport computer screen? Will there be other countries that R won’t be able to enter?
Will I, one day, not be allowed to enter the US or Canada or any other country because I’m his legal wife? Is my husband on some terrorist list, as a gun-toting Mexican who does cocaine? Am I on some terrorist list, as the legal wife of a gun-toting Mexican who does cocaine?
Kids, that’s where I’m at today. In my opinion, Canada is not safe space for couples with undocumented experiences in the U.S.
Another country’s door closed for R and I. And in some ways, the Canada episode cut more deeply than R’s deportation from the U.S.
Incredible, but true.