In my book, The NAFTA BLUEPRINT, my main character is stopped at a border checkpoint between the U.S. and Canada and interrogated by a customs official for not carrying specific documents, and is asked about his past criminal activity. This was published two years ago, and coincidentally, it has now happened to me. This is a clear example of life imitating art. Had I known I would have this experience, I would have waited and made the story more authentic, right? Anyway, last week I rented a car in Skagway, Alaska, gateway to the Yukon Territory where the historical Klondike Gold Rush began. I was waiting in a small border checkpoint along the Alaskan Panhandle, scene of where a part of Jack London’s Call of the Wild takes place, and as the Canadian customs official approached my car, I had a piece of beef jerky in my mouth. I know this is rude, but it happened rather quickly. Also, I had my sunglasses on. I’ve been told this habit is disrespectful, but everyone in my immediate family does it as well. We just feel incomplete without sunglasses, what can I say. The customs official said with sarcasm, “I’ll be back when you finish eating, sir.”
When she returned about five minutes later, she took our passports, left for a while, and when she came back said, “Passenger stay in the car, driver…pull over to the side and come into the office.” She meant me. As I walked in, she gave me a menacing look from behind her desk and said, “Have you ever been arrested?” I became apprehensive and said, “What does that have to do with anything? What’s it to you?” In my mind I thought these types of questions would come from law officials from the U.S., but clearly she was looking at some regional database that stored our information as well. She brought up specific dates as a way to intimidate me, so in a sarcastic way I called out years and times I was arrested for assault, (teenage riot in high school-Sonic Youth) trespassing (for being in a house party), and malicious mischief, like being drunk in public. She drilled me about every single incident, how old I was, who I was with, how much jail or probation time I was given, if I had to pay for damages, and what the outcome was. She asked if I had any paperwork on me that showed I had expunged those cases, which happened in ’93, ’95, and ’99. Who would carry that around? I thought it was a joke and felt offended, embarrassed, and humiliated. She did it in front of two other officials as well. I’ve never had to defend my position, or disclose this information in job interviews or to law enforcement back home…but here I was…in Canada, with some lame customs official who was ridiculing me and making a mockery of my situation by saying, “That type of thing wouldn’t happen in Canada.” I’ve lived in other countries before and this never happened there, not even in Mexico where this type of thing is the norm.
She pulled out a chart and began adding up the crimes like a mathematical equation. I almost laughed at how foolish it all seemed. So I asked, “What, is it like a point system?” She said, “I have to match up the crimes according to Canadian law to see if you’re admissible to enter Canada.” I mentioned I had already been to Canada two other times, but she said that the Yukon was federal, as if I was unaware as to what she was doing. All customs checkpoints are federal, you fascist. And for a moment I even hoped she wouldn’t let me in, to maintain my pride. I didn’t care anymore and I didn’t bother to take off my sunglasses. After about twenty minutes of this nonsense, she said that I was now admissible into Canada because I’ve had a clean record for a long time and she was doing me a solid. The whole scene was ridiculous. And as I thought about my book, I realized that our passport stores biometric information that maintains unique identifiers like: fingerprints, iris scans, facial images, and uses RFID chips, which are radio frequency devices. These tracking devices are a way to help reduce terrorism throughout North America, as part of the forthcoming North American Union regional bloc. Welcome to the brave new world where you are always being watched. Soon you will have a single North American currency, court, customs, and border patrol.