This August I found myself doing something extraordinarily bizarre, and once you read through, you’ll understand why it was weird.
I was going through my laptop files, deleting and backing things up I wanted to keep to a backup hard drive. I had already done this exercise on my phone – going through pictures and deleting them on my device, assured they were backed up and not showing in the cloud.
You see, I was getting ready for a trip. Where? Why delete things off of your devices? you might ask.
This is the bizarre part – I wasn’t heading to Egypt, or the Sudan, or even the Philippines or China. I was going to the United States of America.
Canadians have, since last November’s election, heard stories and news accounts of Canadians being denied entry into the USA at the border for not handing over their cell phones and passwords to their social media accounts. This is “terrorist safety” rhetoric which has flourished since 9/11 run amok.
I didn’t think I was travelling to a dictatorship, and yet I was concerned that my Facebook profile, belonging to Pantsuit Nation, Strong Women’s Action Group and even ExPat Resistance might mean that a Border Patrol agent could look at my phone and a) demand my passwords or b) go through my photos and decide that one JoeBama meme was treason against the incumbent President, or tantamount to a plot.
Anyone else think this is insane? Let’s unpack this a bit.
In 1783 when the Treaty of Paris of 1783 was signed, the United States and the Provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and St. John’s Island (Canada would not become a country until 1867) have enjoyed a mostly harmonious relationship along the border, excepting of course the War of 1812, and the Fenian Raids from 1866-1871. It was argued then that the British were very generous with the terms of the treaty towards the United States, likely with a view to establishing close economic ties and diplomacy.
As technology and fear have made its way into the international psyche, new border measures were implemented for “improved safety”. As a child, I remember piling into the car to go to upstate New York or Michigan for a day of shopping, or leisure, and my parents having a drivers license and saying “yes those are our kids”, and being allowed to cross into the USA. During prohibition, the City where I am from was renowned for rum running and bringing booze to guys like Al Capone.
Let me stop there – I think the right measures and the requirement of a passport was absolutely the right move. That I have to prove that yes, that is my son to cross into a different country or to prove that I am not on an international database of criminals and truly just want to get on my plane to go visit friends.
Why then was I so worried about the JoeBama memes on my phone? Over 200 years of mostly peaceful border coexistence on the longest “undefended” border in the world? 5.525 million miles, 119 crossings, nearly $1 billion USD per day in daily trade between our countries, and 65% of US exports going to Canada alone?
Simply put – America, you’ve changed.
Okay, maybe not changed, but you’ve allowed the worst parts of yourself to succumb to fear, division, bigotry, and hate. Why else would your border agents be seeking to detain in Canadian airports, claiming that area is considered “American land”? Why else would you want our Government to agree that its citizens must give you our passwords and social media handles “for safety”. We are being told that we must hand them over, and that is not illegal search and seizure. Patrol officers do not need to have any reason. So there I was, deleting things off my devices, thinking I was not traveling to “the land of the free” anymore. Thinking about how much worse it would be if I were not white and English speaking.
Now I know some are going to argue about the radicalization of people from ISIS and this is how you fight terrorism. But is it really? The goal of a terrorist is to disrupt your way of life and make you afraid where you live. And America – I love you – but you’ve been running for nearly 20 years, with a bit of a glimmer of hope in there that you allowed to be thoroughly squashed.
You can do better. Promise.