Mace and the Maple Leaf

4 01 2008

“Do you have any weeds in the car?” the Canadian border patrol officer asked. I shook my head no and tried not to smile as the two Quebecois patrolmen rifled through my car seats, my bags, and my underwear. It was a chilly morning at the tiny customs outpost at the Vermont-Quebec border, and a “random search” (aka two very bored officers) had led to the discovery of my intention to smuggle a dangerous weapon into Maple Leaf Land: pepper spray. It had been a gift to me from my father, a cop, for protection in big cities and big forests, and I had tossed it in without much forethought. Unbeknownst to me, however, chemical mace was on the hot list of things NOT allowed to enter Canada- and now so was I. After finding such proof of my delinquency, the officers were convinced that this young couple and their wiener dog headed to Montreal for the weekend had something else to hide- namely, weeds.

“No dandelions here, sir” my boyfriend Joe replied, seemingly enjoying all of this a little too much. After an hour or so of futile searching, the cops decided that the pepper spray was enough to bring me in. I wasn’t worried at all until they began to read me my rights and informed me that my car was now the property of Canada. “Am I in trouble too, or is it just her?” Joe asked with what I knew to be a hidden smile. “Well, it is her car, her bag, and her pepper spray, so only she is in trouble. But we are going to search both of you.”

We were led into the small backwoods office, separated, and taken into different rooms. I was made to remove my shoes and socks, which seemed a thorough enough search for the officers who were hastily talking back and forth in French. “What about her purse? She has not let go of it yet! I bet the drugs are there. Look how she is holding it close to her!” and on and on. They knew I had to be hiding something- but didn’t know that I was fluent in French, disguised with my polite southern drawl. I had grabbed my purse by habit when we first got out of the car, and now the two men were just certain that it contained the pounds of illegal substances that they had been unable to locate in my vehicle. For a good twenty minutes they continued the debate about my purse, and whether or not they could search it without further assistance.

Finally I could take no more, I wanted to get this whole ordeal over with and get on with the weekend in Montreal. I stood up, with bare feet, and dumped the entire contents of my purse onto the interrogation table and handed the empty bag to the officer. “Est-ce qu’on peut partir maintenant?” (Can we leave now?) I asked, in perfect Parisian French. “Uh…ouay” they replied, shrugging, and I was led back into the front office. Minutes later we were ordered to pay a $120 fine to retrieve my car from Canadian impoundment and were released and allowed to enter the country. The two polite officers thanked me and warned that I would now be red-flagged as a weapons smuggler for five years at all border crossings and would have to explain myself anytime I wanted to enter Canada.

“Pas d’probleme,” I replied, “I’m moving to France next week.” Everyone smiled and we were on our way.

Shilo Urban

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