Guarding the Guardians

Who will guard the guards? (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”), the very discerning Roman poet, Juvenal wondered in 160 A.C.E.  Incidentally, this question was also the basis of a novel (“Digital Fortress” by Dan Brown) about a corrupt clandestine government agency official. 

In a recent change of policy, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) stated that it will no longer allow access to an entire section of customs clearance records to the Canadian public. This change in CBSA policy was a move to allay the concerns of CSIS and RCMP about sharing of sensitive information with an agency that was making its records available to the public at large.

In the Meher Arar case, a Canadian engineer holding dual Canadian and Syrian nationality was returning to Canada but was detained while in transit by US immigration officials, based on erroneous RCMP information, and deported to Syria.  Mr. Arar stated that he had been tortured in Syrian captivity and was finally released after his wife tirelessly and successfully managed to convince Canadian officials of his innocence.  The RCMP and CSIS were forced by the Canadian court to reveal evidence of their faulty and sloppy intelligence analyses, after numerous delays and attempts to withhold evidence of their ineptitude claiming reasons of national security.  The RCMP laid the blame for the ineptitude on a new employee – a recent female African immigrant.  By the time that CBC was investigating the allegations of an RCMP cover up, the female immigrant had emigrated to Massachusetts, USA.  CBC calls to the immigrant’s home provoked a warning from the husband to stop hounding his wife.    

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada died after RCMP personnel at the Vancouver, BC airport used Tasers to shock him into submission. 

Mr. Dziekanski did not speak English and had become upset after he was delayed at the airport and was confined to a secure area.  His mother had waited for hours at the airport and finally returned to Kamloops, BC prior to his arrival.

In 2002, the day before I joined the government, I was returning to Canada from the US and after showing my passport to the Canadian border agent, was asked to stop at the Customs building.  A woman officer came out and I handed her my passport.  She asked me to open my car’s trunk and examined my luggage.  She asked me to follow her into the office.  When I came in she asked for identification.  I told her that I had given her my passport and she denied it.  She requested my driver’s license and I gave it to her.  She then proceeded to ask me many questions about my stay and jobs in the US.  She pointed to my old camera and asked for the receipt.  I did not have it.  She informed me that my camera and my laptop would be impounded.  I managed to convince her that I needed the laptop.  She asked me to leave the laptop on and left it connected on the counter.  She then told me I had to pay customs fees for the camera which would be refunded when I provided a receipt.  She also told me my name was being added to a database but would not specify any other details. 

I paid the fee and she handed over to a male colleague who completed the customs clearance.  I was then informed that I could leave and the laptop and camera were handed to me.  I told them that I could not leave without my passport.  They told me that they did not have it.  I reiterated that I would not leave until my passport was returned.  I was asked by another female agent to check my luggage thoroughly.  I went to my car and found my passport stashed under all the clothes.

I had to report to work the next day and was too tired to argue or lodge a complaint.  I later wrote a letter to the CBSA and received a polite letter that referred only to the male agent who had signed off on my clearance and made no mention of the female officer who had confiscated my passport and abused her position.  On one of my later trips to the US, I stopped at the Canadian side and demanded to know the female officer’s name.  She would not give her name or badge id and I noticed she was not wearing any name tag or identification.

After she left, I asked her male counterpart and he would not provide me her name.  I then informed the agent that the female officer had abused her position and if I was ever stopped or harassed again, I would inform my MP.  I did not receive any response but after that I never encountered any delay at the border.  I spoke to a RCMP official and asked him if my name had been added to any database and he informed me that as far as he knew, there was no record of my name in their database. 

With the increased security requirements after 9-11 and legislation like the new BSA policy in Canada and the Patriot Act in the US, the rights of citizens and legal immigrants has been drastically reduced in inverse proportion to the greater power of officials and politicians.  Unfortunately, not all persons in powerful positions can exercise their power properly.  There are a few who may let the power go to their head and misuse or abuse their authority.  A few corrupt current and former politicians have abused the overriding issue of security to advance their personal agendas and /or vendettas against their  perceived critics and their families.

Similarly minorities, as well as the majority, and special interests need to realize that they are working for the government, which is answerable to the public.  It is essential that group interests, minority members with political influence and other special interests realize that they are not private masters but public servants.

The renowned American author and humorist, Mark Twain observed with prescience: “The government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them…”.

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