THE BORDER: Sarnians encountering new reality at the Blue Water Bridge

Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Troy Shantz

Local residents headed to the U.S. should be prepared to hand over cell phones and answer questions about religion and politics or consider staying home, a Windsor-based immigration lawyer says.

“If you don’t want to co-operate and you say, ‘I don’t want to answer this question,’ then it’s not going to go well for you,” said Eddie Kadri.

“If you need to get into to the U.S. for business or pleasure, then understand it’s a privilege, not a right.”

U.S. officers controlling the borders of Donald Trump’s America are searching phones and laptops, asking for Facebook passwords and delaying some travellers for hours. Canadians have been denied entry without explanation, even with proper documentation.

The border has changed and Canadians need to be aware of the new reality, Kadri said.

“If I’m going to take a principled approach and say, ‘I don’t want to answer questions about religion or politics,’ then I need to re-evaluate the need to enter the U.S.,” he said.

A Canadian citizen and family physician in Sarnia, Dr. Sardar Ahmad, was detained more than five hours at the Blue Water Bridge last month and asked which “tribe” he was part of in his native Afghanistan, The Observer reported.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said there has been a noticeable change in attitude by U.S. border agents since Trump’s election.

A Sarnia couple with a Florida summer home were recently asked charged political questions, but didn’t complain for fear of being flagged as troublemakers at future crossings, the mayor said.

“Border guards have incredible power. They can reject you without any reason at all.”

There is no restriction on what an officer can ask you at the border, although only a small minority asks deeply personal questions, said Kadri.

If you are detained, answer every question truthfully, he advises.

“When you’re at that border and you’re being examined, and you have national security hanging over an officer’s assessment, they can almost justify anything on that basis. That’s something we have to understand,” he said.

Asked if making critical statements on social media about Donald Trump or other U.S. leaders could get you detained, Kadri said he hopes not.

“But you know in this crazy day and age you can’t put anything past anybody.”

Bradley said the new chill at the border could actually have a silver lining for the local economy.

“Here’s an opportunity to keep Canadians in Ontario this summer,” he said.

TIPS FOR CROSSING THE BLUE WATER BRIDGE:

* Always have a valid passport or NEXUS card ready.

* When you arrive at the booth, lower the windows, unlock the car doors turn off the vehicle.

* Be prepared to turn over laptops, smartphones and tablets for inspection, or leave them at home.

* Beyond questions about the purpose of your visit, expect to be asked about political and religious opinions.

* Be courteous, respectful and always tell the truth.

* Problems or complaints about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection can be lodged at https://help.cbp.gov