Canadians traveling to Women's March denied US entry after sharing plans
After telling border agents their plans to march, group’s cars were searched and phones examined, and each person was fingerprinted and had their photo taken
Would-be protesters heading to the Women’s March on Washington have said they were denied entry to the United States after telling border agents at a land crossing in Quebec their plans to attend the march.
Montrealer Sasha Dyck was part of a group of eight who had arranged online to travel together to Washington. Divided into two cars, the group – six Canadians and two French nationals – arrived at the border crossing that connects St Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec with Champlain, New York, on Thursday.
The group was upfront about their plans with border agents, Dyck said. “We said we were going to the women’s march on Saturday and they said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to pull over’.”
What followed was a two-hour ordeal. Their cars were searched and their mobile phones examined. Each member of the group was fingerprinted and had their photo taken.
Border agents first told the two French citizens that they had been denied entry to the US and informed them that any future visit to the US would now require a visa.
“Then for the rest of us, they said, ‘You’re headed home today’,” Dyck said. The group was also warned that if they tried to cross the border again during the weekend, they would be arrested. “And that was it, they didn’t give a lot of justification.”
Dyck described it as a sharp contrast to 2009, when the research nurse made the same journey to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. “I couldn’t even get in for this one, whereas at the other one, the guy at the border literally gave me a high five when I came in and everybody was just like, ‘welcome’. The whole city was partying; nobody was there to protest Obama the first time.”
UK national Joe Kroese said he, a Canadian and two Americans were held at the same border crossing for three hours on Thursday.
The group had travelled from Montreal, where 23-year-old Kroese is studying, and had explained to border agents that they were considering attending the Women’s March but had yet to finalise their plans.
After being questioned, fingerprinted and photographed, Kroese and his Canadian companion were refused entry because they were planning to attend what the border agent called a “potentially violent rally”, he said. The pair was advised not to travel to the United States for a few months, and Kroese was told he would now need a visa to enter the US.
After an attempted crossing late Thursday, Montreal resident Joseph Decunha said he was also turned away. He and the two Americans he was with told the border agent that they were planning to attend the inauguration and the women’s march.
The group was brought in for secondary processing, where the border agent asked about their political views, Decunha told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “The first thing he asked us point blank is, ‘Are you anti- or pro-Trump?’”
After being fingerprinted and photographed he was told that his two friends could enter the US, but that he could not. “They told me I was being denied entry for administrative reasons. According to the agent, my travelling to the United States for the purpose of protesting didn’t constitute a valid reason to cross,” Decunha said.
He described the experience – particularly the questions he fielded about his political beliefs – as concerning. “It felt like, if we had been pro-Trump, we would have absolutely been allowed entry.”
US Customs and Border Protection said it could not discuss individual cases, citing privacy reasons. “We recognize that there is an important balance to strike between securing our borders while facilitating the high volume of legitimate trade and travel that crosses our borders every day, and we strive to achieve that balance and show the world that the United States is a welcoming nation,” it said in an email to the Guardian.
On a daily basis, more than 1 million individuals are admitted into the United States at its air, land and sea ports, the agency noted. An average of 600 people a day – less than a tenth of 1% of those admitted – are denied entry for a varied list of reasons that include prohibited activities or intent as well as national security concerns.
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