Guilty As Charged!

By: Michael Laprade

Volume 17, Issue 8, August 2022

Crossing the northern border is no laughing matter (the southern border is sometimes a different story). Some time ago, I had an experience that has really stayed with me. Like many, we spend the summers in the Islands and cross back and forth frequently, often by boat, and just as often by car over the bridge. We were at the Canadian border crossing, having done a little shopping in the US, and we were making our customary declaration. The Customs officer dutifully inquired about our purchases and without hesitation, I rattled off my short list, including a 6 inch Basil plant in a small dirt pot.

The officer instantly stiffened and his eyes grew wide, as though I had just announced that I had an anti aircraft gun. He demanded to see it and I held it in my hand. I began to feel like I had just unintentionally triggered an international cross border incident. He advised me that it was a prohibited item and I could not enter Canada with it.

Fair enough, I thought, so I offered to throw it out on the spot. “Absolutely not!” I was told. Inquiring as to what he proposed I do with it, I was told to return it to the US. Having a line of cars all around me I was unable to drive back. So, I left my passengers, got out of the car, and said I would walk back to the bridge and simply toss it in the river below. “Absolutely not,” he angrily told me. My bad.

"Guilty as Charged" [Illustration by Marie-Anne Erki, ©2022, Kingston, ON]

My only option was to walk back to the US Customs station, through the no man’s land between the two checkpoints. Knowing that the US Customs officers would see me walking between the cars towards them would trigger all manner of reactions as to my intentions, I raised my hands above my head with my tiny Basil plant in hand, to show that I was no threat. Sure enough, a half dozen officers came rushing out of the building, running between the cars to stop me. I was taken to their office and given a thorough background check, probably in the criminal database, escaped convicts list, no fly list, terrorist watch list, and who knows, maybe I was an escapee from a mental hospital!

Finally, cooler heads prevailed. The plant was unceremoniously tossed into the trash, and a phone call was made to their Canadian counterparts, warning them that I would be returning on foot between the cars once again. They had made their point. From now, on I will buy my herbs in store wrapped, sealed packages!

By Michael Laprade

Michael Laprade and his wife Janice are retired Californians, who spend the summer at their “Honey Bee Island” property. It is located in the International Rift, between Blacksnake Passage at the mouth of Lake of the Isles and the stone span of the US / Canadian Customs Bridge. Michael is a former prison administrator, and also is a Professional Magician. In October 2013, Michael and Janice wrote Honey Bee Island’s Little Free Library for TI Life, as well as I Was the Pilot in September 2016, and Boarding of the SS Honey Bee in January 2018. Two recent articles include his helping on Team Rubicon with FEMA in April 2022, and Chief Tecumseh in September 2021.  

Marie-Anne Erki

Marie-Anne Erki, is TI Life's  illustrator and accomplished artist. She is also Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at Canada's Royal Military College where she taught for twenty years. She has already produced individual illustrations for Patrick Metcalf's The Witch of Wellesley Island (see STORIES+) and illustrated many of Paul Hetlzer's past articles.

Editor’s Note: There are regulations and restrictions for bringing plants across the Canadian/United States border in either direction. Generally, the main concern is pests that might be in or on the plants. Plants can be imported into either country, but you must have the proper paperwork in hand, showing that the plants have been inspected and are disease and pest-free. Bottom line . . . just buy Canadian, or buy USA depending on the item and forget the hassle.

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 8, August 2022, Essay, Nature

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