Fun with Customs and Border Guards in the U.S. and Canada

“Sir, you can go ahead and button your shirt back up,” said the TSA agent.

We’d only been trying to help. We were passing through Houston on our way from Acapulco to the Agora Financial Symposium in Vancouver.

We’d opted out of the Rapiscan irradiation machine and so had to be felt up by an agent. We meant to call attention to how absurd the entire security theory was by playing the part of compliant victim with scorn in his eyes. So we slowly stripped until we were told to stop. We only got as far as unbottoning our shirt.

Our host in Acapulco had been Jeff Berwick of The Dollar Vigilante. Jeff had been to something like 140 countries in the past few years. He’d sailed his own boat to quite a few of those and only used a plane after the shipwreck. He had found the closest thing to freedom in agreeable surroundings in Acapulco.

“The U.S. is toast, amigo,” he’d told us, “You need to take advantage of your status as a mobile, contract internet writer and get out while the getting’s good…

“And Canada is even worse, by the way.”

Jeff wasn’t kidding, especially about that last part as I would discover upon entering Canada today. (More on that later).

We could tell things had gotten a lot worse with the border patrols this year from the very start of our international travels several days ago. The TSA thug who checked our passport on the way from Las Vegas to Acapulco was a hatchet-faced twentysomething with a buzzcut. His eyes bulged slightly but he kept them hooded as he looked back and forth with suspicion between our passport photo and us. He reminded us of a lizard: predatory and untroubled by higher thought.

After twenty seconds of the back and forth reptilian gazing, we inclined ourselves slightly toward him and slowly raised an eyebrow. He waved us through.

“Welcome to freedom,” Jeff had told us on our first day in Mexico. He was spot on there too. If there was something you couldn’t do in Mexico–as long as you didn’t molest anyone else–we certainly didn’t discover it. Relevant to this part of the story is how spoiled Mexico had gotten us. In only a week we’d gotten used to not having to worry terribly much about the state’s goons telling us how to behave.

Then we made the mistake of reading some quotes from Albert Jay Nock among others in Jeffery Tucker’s Bourbon For Breakfast en route between Houston and Vancouver.

The personal freedom experienced in Acapulco…reading hours of anti-state musings…and then being faced with state thugs at a couple of borders. It was a dangerous mix. By the time we landed in Canada, we were fairly seething. Good thing we hadn’t been drinking too.

After telling us to button our shirt back up the Houston TSA agent asked if we wouldn’t rather have him feel us up in private.

“No, no…right out here is fine,” we said.

He instructed us to hold our arms out to the side with palms up and then he began. We tried our best to maintain eye contact the entire time. Some people stopped to watch.

But that’s nothing compared to what happened when we actually got into Canada. If the U.S. is bad, Canada is worse.

At least in the U.S. they pretend to care about things like personal sovereignty. There remains outrage over things like the TSA and more nationalization of medical services.

Mexico seems to have real liberty where it counts. (If it weren’t for the U.S.-led Prohibition-style war on drugs, Mexico’s cartels would be no more powerful or violent than Rite Aid and Mexico itself could be a paradise.) The U.S. pays liberty some lip service.

In Canada we find no such sentiment about liberty. It seems things just get worse the farther north you go, as if freedom can’t stomach the cold.

Canadians have gleefully committed their lives to the care and direction of the state as far back as anyone cares to remember. Perhaps that long-nurtured nationally socialist spirit is why Canada’s border guards are the scariest we’ve yet encountered.

They were to a one young, wearing bullet-proof vests over their crisp uniforms and serious as heart attacks. If the USA’s thugs seem a little bumbling as they do their government’s dirty work, the Canadian versions make up for it. Those young men and women processing passengers gave us the impression that they’d just as efficiently process undesirables into concentration camps.

It was 1 am local time when we had our turn with an unsmiling Canadian border guard. Perhaps we didn’t answer snappily enough. Perhaps we were a bit surly after having read those selections from Nock. Whatever the reason, we were marked for further processing, something we didn’t find out till after waiting another 45 minutes to get our luggage. At that point we were not in the right frame of mind to deal with state agents docilely.

And sure enough there was trouble.

“Sir, you seem to have a problem with me,” said the not un-pretty customs lady in the backroom after she’d asked us the same questions the first customs agent had asked us an hour ago.  We were having tremendous trouble hiding the anger in our voice even though we’d managed to speak slowly and quietly so far. We probably looked pretty wound up too, like someone ready to swing at a square off in a bar.

“I don’t like being treated like this,” we answered, “Don’t you think I should be bothered by it? Doesn’t it bother you? The way the state is bringing down the hammer lately?” Stupid questions, especially the last one.

We had already long ago resigned ourselves to going to jail and being sent back to the U.S. So we continued, “I am going to the same conference in the same hotel I’ve been coming to for the past three years. Why treat me like this now? Why treat anyone like this? I mean, here I am trying to go about my business and now anything I say wrong can land me in jail.”

“Sir, I don’t know you. You don’t know me. There’s no reason to be upset with me,” she said.

Ah, but there was. While we rant about the state, it all really comes down to individuals. It’s individuals who have rights, not groups. It is individuals who are are responsible for their actions. She was enforcing the bad laws, imposing the duty, the fines, the forced detention. She was the low-level muscle helping run a protection racket for the state.

She took our passport and U.S. resident alien card and disappeared into a secured office with a couple of her cronies. She returned about five minutes later and told us that we were free to go.

“So why did this happen?” we asked. “What did I do to call attention to myself and make you guys want to detain me? Is there a way to avoid this and go about my business (without molestation) in the future?”

“No, nothing,” she said, “This was random and we have the power to stop anyone we wish upon their entry into this country.”

We couldn’t stop hearing Jeff’s words in our head:

“Give up the green card. Go live for cheap in Asia or Latin America and live your life as free from government interference as you can. Stay the hell away from the U.S…Canada too. And Western Europe. What’s going on in New Hampshire with the Free State Project is exciting, but I don’t know if it’s worth sticking around when you have the opportunity to get out entirely.”

We’ve been entertaining the same thoughts on expatriation for years, with the same sorts of destinations in mind. We’re not under the delusion that any of these places are perfect. But the little bit we’ve seen tells us that they are…different…And in the ways that matter to us better.

Albert Jay Nock wrote in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man:

“As a general principle, I should put it that a man’s country is where the things he loves are most respected. Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it remains his country.”

Too true. And what a shame it would be for circumstances to allow a man to live where it suits him and for him to remain instead where it doesn’t.