I know its seems as though when I travel internationally, I always am posting about some horrible experience that has happened to me. Here is what happened when I took AMTRAK from Seattle to Vancouver today:
I bought a business class ticket to ride the train from Seattle, Washington USA to Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. When I arrived at King Street Station was was made aware that there was a mudslide on the train tracks and they were going to have to change us over to a bus. No big deal, I asked about getting compensated for the difference in fare and the ticket agent told me to call customer service after the trip.
I arrive at the border security check point and was asked for my paperwork, then the Canadian Boarder Services officer asked me some personal questions about why I was in the United States. I told him that the only answers I would be willing to provide were the answers that were what were on my sheet. I was asked to step aside and they were going to X-Ray my bags, I had already anticipated this so I was at the front of the line for customs. A nice gentleman from CBS asked me some questions, I told him that I was not going to answer any question not on the paperwork. He explained to me what the purpose of his job was, and I informed him that I knew of why he asks what he asked, but that I would assert my rights under the Canadian Charter to remain silent. The officer was actually really cool, and we talked while he was scanning my bags and of course he was trying to sneak in questions here and there and I would re-affirm that I would not answer any questions.
By the time that most of the questions were asked everyone was on board the bus ready to go, and the conductor and attendant lady were talking and looking at me. CBS went to this back room to discuss things and I was sitting by myself, so I told the attendant lady that there was an issue and that it wouldn’t be much longer. She was upset and kept going into the CBS room asking them how long it was going to take, but I could see she was actually upset at ME.
Then CBS came back out and asked me to turn on my computer, thats when I asked to see their authority to actually examine the contents of my hard drive (opposed to just looking at my computer which was turned off — side note: My laptops hard drive is dead and I am running a live disk, and I told them this as well). They eventually met my request with enough information that I felt it was appropriate for them to look through my laptop and phone (though I do want to get more information on this).. and again, I didn’t want to hold up the bus too much so I just told them fine, and I also answered some of their more basic questions just to speed up the process.
When CBS went back to talking amongst their selves, the lady told me that if it was going to take any longer she was just going to leave me there and I could find another bus. I asked her when the next bus would come through (it was 12:00PM when this took place), and she said she didn’t know but it would probably be tonight (and thats if they ran a bus that night, because they were talking about running the train on the night trip). I explained to her that things were going as fast as they could, but I wasn’t going to sacrifice my safety or rights to make her happy. She said that there was a chance that they wouldn’t let me into the country anyway, to which I replied “I am a Canadian citizen, I cannot be denied re-entry into Canada” and she said “they can do whatever they want!”. I just laughed and explained that I knew the law a little better then she did, and that there was no way I could be denied re-entry — the only possible option would be for me to be arrested.
When the CBS agents came to talk to me again, I told them “look I am sorry this has caused issues, I am morally and legally against answering questions without a lawyer present, but I don’t want to inconvenience the bus riders, and they said they were going to leave without me — just let me answer whatever you want so we can go”. Thats when the CBS manager (badge number 11233 – No kidding) told me (paraphrased) “I already told her she can’t leave until you are on board, take your time if you feel like a question is uncomfortable it’s within your rights to not answer”. I still tried to cooperate a bit more, only answering the most basic questions “Yes I lived in Alaska” “My address is written down as Teacher Housing because thats where I was, there was no street addresses there”. Again, CBS is a million times better than US Border Patrol and they understood that I wasn’t up to anything bad, but that I was just protecting myself.
I met with the CBS agents one more time, and they basically said all is good, and we were going over our final procedures to let me go on my way and the AMTRAK lady barges in again and says “this bus is late and we need to have a reason, so I want your name and these agents wont give it to me”. I wrote it down and then then CBS and I were talking about personal privacy and stuff (I saw that they had pulled out my Pirate Party Canada membership card, and I wanted to clarify the reason for them to single that card out of my wallet rather than the 20 other cards I have, and CBS officer told me that he was just interested in the party, and was looking through the platforms), he was talking about how CBS had policies in place to protect personal privacy too and thats why he wouldn’t give her my name even though I was on her bus. The CBS agent also told me that he had informed the AMTRAK lady that it was not my fault that I was being questioned and that it actually happens routinely. I said “she seems cranky to me” and he agreed, ha!
They finally let me go and the CBS agent apologized to the AMTRAK lady and she told him “Oh you don’t have to be sorry, it wasn’t YOUR fault.” looking at me. I got on the bus and we arrived 40 minutes late, but my rights are still intact (for the most part, the looking through my cell phone and laptop still doesn’t sit well with me) — and everyone made their connections. AMTRAK is a corporation owned by the United States Government just like NASA and USPS, you would hope that a company like that would be able to respect basic things like “rights” but it was simply not the case in this story. Then again, thats probably why they have gone bankrupt so many times and had to be bought out by the Government in the first place!