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Monday, June 24, 2013

Incident at the Border

Update below.  2nd update below.

A couple who have lived for a long time in Point Roberts had an unusual experience at the Peace Arch border this past week.  Let's call them Bill and Mary.  They make a trip to Bellingham every month or so and customarily buy groceries of various sorts while there, usually from the Coop or Trader Joe's.  And when it's Trader Joe's, it usually includes wine and or beer in various quantities, never more than a case.  And there's usually some produce, and then the various other things that make up groceries.

This past week, they made such a trip and left the Trader's with a case of 2-Buck Chuck (which I think is now about 3-Buck Chuck), and a 6-pack of beer, some plums, some strawberries, some apples.  And the dairy products and cat and dog food, etcetera.  When they got to Peace Arch (going into Canada), they pulled out their Nexus cards and when the CBP guy in the booth asked what they had in the car, Bill replied, as he always does, "We've got a case of wine, a 6-pack of beer, and groceries from Trader Joe's, with a receipt."  Mr. CBP inquired as to how many bottles were in the case and how big the bottles were.  "Twelve 750 milliliter bottles."  Mr. CBP informed them that that was way too much alcohol to be bringing into Canada.  "And do you have any fruits or vegetables?"

So Bill and Mary explained that they did have some odds and ends of fruits, as well.  But, they went on, we live in Point Roberts and we are going straight through to Point Roberts, not stopping in Canada or leaving anything in Canada.
Alas, Mr. CBP didn't care about any of that and wrote them up a dreaded yellow slip violation for bringing prohibited fruit and excess alcohol while traveling in a Nexus lane, and sent them and their yellow slip Inside the Building.

There, an agent took the prohibited produce away from them, and sent them to another employee who eventually took to writing up a bill for the wine and beer tax, when Bill managed to get through to her that they weren't taking anything to Canada, but to Point Roberts which was the United States and that they lived there (as their Nexus card info clearly showed).  He asked if he could talk to a supervisor because it was our understanding up in Point Roberts that we could bring such goods straight through to the Point as long as we did not stop in B.C. on the way. She said she'd never heard of any such thing, but she'd ask her supervisor.

Off she went, and shortly appeared another uniformed officer who asked them where they lived and whether they had Washington State Driver Licenses with their Point Roberts' address on them.  Which Bill and Mary then produced.  And the supervisor returned the yellow slip to them and told them to be on their way and have a nice day, suggesting that with large quantities of alcohol, they had to make sure that the traveller actually did live in Point Roberts.

All that remained was to retrieve the produce from a giant bin which had been receiving a lot of forfeit produce.  Fortunately, theirs was plastic wrapped, distinguishable, and rescuable, but it could as easily have been a handful of berries, in the midst of squash and beans and lettuce, I guess, just part of a muck.

Bill and Mary had been told (as I have been told) that the proper procedure if our goods are questioned at Peace Arch is to ask to speak to a supervisor.  I hadn't expected it would be quite so difficult to make that happen as Bill and Mary found.  But, it appears to be good advice.  For them, the incident cost an extra 30 or so minutes of being in various lines and required an unexpected persistence.  At the end, Mary asked the Supervisor, "This isn't going to be some kind of mark against us on our Nexus Card, is it?"  "No," he said, "because there was no violation."

I'm hoping somebody tells that to the guy in the booth.

Several commenters have written that Bill and Mary should never have tried to bring such purchases through the Nexus Lane.  On June 26, I received the following message from Arthur Reber, the Chair of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, and I reprint it here with his permission:

"At the last meeting of the ad hoc border committee the Canadian supervisor assured us that their policy was that all legal purchases made in Washington by residents of Point Roberts could be brought 'in transit' through Canada. The guard who first issued the Nexus violation was in error and the supervisor made the correct decision.

Arthur (S. Reber)
Chair, PRCAC"

2nd Update:  Reber further notes that 'legal purchases' would not include plants, seeds, and guns.


Anonymous said...

I cannot believe this story is true.

First, that someone living on the Point would actually think that it is legal to bring that amount of wine over the border, because "we live in Point Roberts and we are going straight through to Point Roberts, not stopping in Canada or leaving anything in Canada." is asinine. Next time maybe Bill and Mary will bring their cocaine and guns over from Bellingham too. You know, because they're not leaving them in Canada.

And second, if the story actually is true, I cannot believe that the CBSA "supervisor" allowed this. Trust me this will not be looked on favourably higher up the chain of command if they happen to see this story.

A concerned resident

Anonymous said...

They are the authors of their own problem. Use the passport lanes if you have large quantities of liquor. In either direction.

Anonymous said...

When I renewed my Nexus card, both the US and Canada representatives were very clear with me. Declare everything! I cannot imagine why someone would bring fruits, vegetables and those amounts of liquor and use the Nexus lane - even if you are going directly to Point Roberts. It is too easy to lose your Nexus card and they have a 0% tolerance rule. You may never get it back. Is it really worth it to try to take items you know are over the Canadian limit through Nexus?

Anonymous said...

2nd Update: Reber further notes that 'legal purchases' would not include plants, seeds, and guns.

So what's illegal about a plant? Is a potato legal? An orange? How about a box of wine? Half an ounce of weed purchased in WA? Strawberries?

And there you have the crux of the issue: judgment is involved, things that are called "not legal" are quite legal (a plant, for instance), and at the end of the day you have to ask -- why would I risk my Nexus card if I am not 100% certain what I am doing is going to not meet opposition or inordinate scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this entry and thanks also to those who posted comments. I am new to the Point and have been trying to find out what the rules about this are. I don't like to ask the officials because whenever I ask them anything, they seem to regard me with suspicion although suspicion of what, I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but anyway, I have asked around and gotten a variety of answers, most of which are reproduced here. This doesn't provide me with much guidance, but at least it supports my impression that the "rules" are fluid, subjective, and not at all clear. My confusion is natural...and that's a good thing to know. Good thing I don't drink that much.