In court documents filed in the U.S., Leslie Ingratta of Windsor alleges two customs and border protection officers took her to a holding cell for questioning when she attempted to cross the Detroit-Windsor tunnel on Jan. 30, 2011, for a shopping trip to the states.
The lawsuit alleges officials questioned Ingratta repeatedly and accused her of lying about her reasons to travel before ordering her to face a wall. With her arms and legs spread, the officials conducted a search that included putting their hands under her bra and fondling her breasts, as well as grabbing her buttocks and rubbing her genitals, the suit alleges.
She was then taken back to the waiting room, crying and shaking, and told she was “clear to enter the United States.”
The story goes on to say that the woman was so traumatized by the incident that she turned around and returned to Canada immediately. Who can blame her?
Since 9/11, it seems like a siege mentality has descended on America’s borders. Indeed, it would seem that America’s reputation as an open, decent and principled society has been transformed into a paranoid, strident, militaristic one. In that sense, the perpetrators of the crime of 9/11 have achieved what they were after: America is nervous, and America has changed.
Border crossings are the litmus test of a free, civil and democratic America. Each time someone is abused at the border, we should be reminded of what has been lost from America’s past. While there were always shortcomings in the way border officials occasionally treated visitors, the invasive and offensive treatment now on display at US crossings is new and worrisome.
Some would argue that there is a need for more vigilance, and point to the threats to America. But we all know that the need to be vigilant does not replace the need for US officials to be reasonable and civil to visitors.
In the end, a lawsuit will not teach America what civilization requires. But it may at least remind its leaders to be true to the principles enshrined in their country’s constitution.