The furor touched off by a Peace Arch News story about the apparent attitudes of some U.S. Customs and Border Protection members, and their effect on the questioning of Canadian visitors, seems to have taken on a decidedly partisan tone.
It’s not surprising there are some Canadians more than willing to take shots at Americans or generalize about our neighbour to the south in the same shallow tone a few online commenters, apparently CBP members, used in describing Canadians in a job-forum website.
Nor is it surprising that last week’s article subsequently brought forth a link, in a comment on the same website, to the horrible experience of an American writer at the hands of an overzealous Canadian border-protection officer. Sadly, we can all readily believe such an incident took place – and many more like it that have never been reported.
It is likely that many who have travelled have had experiences of bullying and intimidation at border checkpoints throughout the world – and, depending on the borders and tensions involved, to a far more horrific degree than Canadians or Americans are ever likely to receive on either side of our ‘friendly’ dividing line.
But the point of the article was not to provoke some Canada-versus-America game of tit for tat. The point was to focus attention on a problem that is truly international.
No matter how amicable the border, the relationship can be soured – even subverted – by the actions of a few, with economic and social effects they may never dream of.
No one can argue that protecting a border isn’t a challenging job requiring unceasing vigilance. But, by the same token, just about everyone can recognize the difference between earnest diligence and the kind of lip-smacking satisfaction some individuals derive from the exercise of power.
Those who abuse this power believe they exist in a world where they can’t be scrutinized like the visitors waiting in line, where complaints can disappear in a bureaucratic sinkhole and supervisors are ready to look the other way.
But these same supervisors should recognize – and emphasize through training and instruction – that such behaviour is in no one’s best interest.
The real dividing line in this story is not between Americans and Canadians. It is between those doing their duty and those who see fit to redefine their duties to serve a personal, not a national, agenda.