Maine resident Richard Albert was fined $10,000 by the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection for attending church in Canada — a habit he has practiced for the past 40 years. However, due to laws implemented in the wake of Sept. 110, Albert’s routine, as well as the routines of many other citizens living on the U.S.-Canada border, have been impaired by the U.S. government. This increased scrutiny has caused an unnecessary hindrance in the lives of the very people that these laws are assumed to protect.
Albert lives just 30 yards from the Canadian border in the rural Township 15 Range 15. Albert’s Sunday ritual consisted of traveling to church over the border into nearby Quebec to the village of St. Pamphile. After being caught on tape crossing through a closed border control station, Albert was mailed two $5,000 fines for breaching new security codes. Even though Albert has appealed these charges, he has been unable to attend his church services for the past three weeks.
According to Bangor Daily News, Ottawa, Canada provided 300 special passes to U.S. citizens in this region allowing them to cross the border when customs locations are closed. The United States used Form 1 program passes, similar to Canada’s passes, which allowed re-entry for U.S. citizens back into the country. However, following the Sept. 11 tragedy, security of all U.S. borders was heightened, and, as of last May, the United States canceled its program. As Albert told the Bangor Daily, “It was never an issue to cross before May 1when they put up a gate on the boundary and locked it up … We feel like we’re being treated like animals here. At 9 p.m. we’re locked in the barns, and at 6 a.m. we’re let out to pasture.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection would not specifically comment to the Bangor Daily on Albert’s case, but she did say residents had been notified about the stricter controls and that some of the new restrictions would inconvenience people. Albert and other surrounding township residents expect a solution that would either provide the border station with 24 hour, seven day-a-week staffing or for authorization to cross the border after stations are closed. The only current option for the residents is a neighboring border station that is 200 miles away.
To safeguard its citizens, the government frequently faces tough choices between security and freedom of individuals. Certainly, tighter border controls are an important element of protection. However, since Albert is able to walk unchecked across the border, there seems little chance of anyone preventing a terrorist from entering the country at this crossing.
The cancellation of long-established border-crossing programs that made the lives of U.S. and Canadian citizens easier seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to Sept. 11 than a considered security measure.