Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jan 2011
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2011 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Ingrid Brown


Says Canadian Immigration Treated Her 'Like An Animal'

NATALIE Cole had hoped that her visit to a friend in Canada last
November would have been a pleasurable and memorable first-time trip
out of Jamaica. However, she told the Sunday Observer that her
encounter with immigration officials on her arrival at the Lester B
Pearson International Airport in Toronto turned into one of the worst
experiences of her life.

According to Cole, not only was she interrogated for three hours by
Canadian immigration officers who accused her of drug smuggling, but
her BlackBerry phone was taken and her e-mail, Facebook account and
instant messages searched.

Cole, who described the incident as traumatic and embarrassing, said
she was even quizzed as to whether she was sexually involved with the
person who had bought her the plane ticket.

"I was questioned as to what favours I was doing for the person who
bought the ticket for me and directly asked if I was sleeping with
him," Cole told the Sunday Observer.

The 33-year-old said the ordeal began when she travelled to Canada on
Friday, November 19, 2010 on a five-year-multiple entrance visa, for a
five-day vacation.

When she arrived in the immigration department at the airport at
around six o'clock that evening, Cole said she was sent to a room to
speak with immigration officers, one was female and the other an older

"While I was there another male immigration officer came in and said
'can I jump in on this one?' and the older man said 'sure' and they
exchanged places," Cole claimed.

She said she was escorted to the baggage claim area to retrieve her
luggage, which the officers began searching, spilling items of
clothing, including undergarments on the floor.

Cole claimed she was then taken back to the room where three other
immigration officers joined the group and accused her of transporting

"I was told by a female officer that she is a member of the 'jerk
team' and she knows that I have narcotics and I should tell her where
it is," Cole recalled

The officer further informed her that she was going to do a full body
search -- anal, vaginal, oral -- and she would be scanned until the
drugs were found.

Cole said she co-operated fully with the officers, and told them to do
what they must as she was tired, hungry and wanted to leave. "The
female officer said, "you're not going anywhere, the only place you
are going is to jail," Cole told the Sunday Observer.

When she questioned why she was being threatened with jail, Cole said
the officer insisted she had narcotics either in her luggage, or on
her person. "One of the male officers said with a smirk, that it must
be in me," Cole said.

"I started to cry when I thought that I had left my family and son at
home where I was OK, to come to this place on vacation, to be treated
like an animal or criminal for no apparent reason," she recounted.

However, this did not soften the behaviour of the immigration officer,
who Cole said continued to hurl accusations of drug smuggling at her.

"She said to me 'I am looking you in the eyes and telling you I know
you have narcotics'," Cole told the Sunday Observer.

The female officer, Cole said, told her there was a young lady who
earlier in the day also insisted she had no drugs on her, but broke
down under interrogation and confessed.

By this time, frightened and frustrated, the Jamaican woman said she
began pleading to be put back on a plane and sent to Jamaica rather
than be further humiliated. But this, she said, was to no avail, as
the officers insisted that jail was the only place she would be going.

"She (the immigration officer) continued to say, "this is the
'help-Natalie' project". When she asked what that meant, the officer
said she was going to help her "to get through this".

Being in a room alone with five officers was enough to drive real fear
into a by now paranoid Cole. She grew increasingly suspicious of the
motives of her interrogators.

"So much so that when they were searching my luggage for the second
time around I started watching carefully that nothing was being put in
them," she said.

But the interrogation did not stop there. Cole said she was further
questioned by another officer as to why she waited so long to use her
passport, which she had had since 2006. Her explanation that most
Jamaicans had passports not only for travelling, but for
identification did not convince the officers.

She said the female officer, who had identified herself as being a
member of the "jerk team" informed her that she was going downstairs
and when she returned she must be told where the drugs are.

However, after three hours of interrogation, Cole said another male
officer returned to the room and informed his colleagues that she had
been cleared.

"No apologies were made. Instead, a stern warning was issued that I
must leave the country by November 26 (within eight days) and I must
go to immigration to let them know on the day I am leaving the
country," she said.

Cole said the experience placed a damper on her vacation and she could
not wait to leave at the end of the five days.

As was requested, she said she visited the immigration department on
the day of her departure and had her passport and electronic ticket
scanned by an immigration officer.

She was only too delighted, she said, to return to Jamaica and put the
horrible experience behind her. However, the nightmare resumed with a
follow-up call from the Canadian immigration department to her Toronto
host, requesting proof that she had left the country within the
stipulated time. A letter which was addressed to her and sent to her
host in Canada, followed soon after.

"The letter threatened to issue a warrant for my arrest if proof was
not provided by December 31, as they had no record that I had left the
country," she explained.

A copy of the letter sent from the Canada Border Services Agency,
which the Sunday Observer received, states: "Our records show that you
were required to leave Canada on, or before November 26, 2010, and
that you were required to have your departure verified by a Canada
Immigration Officer. You have failed to report as instructed, and,
consequently, we have no evidence that you have in fact left the country."

"Failure to comply with the conditions that were placed upon your
admission to Canada on November 19, 2010, constitutes a violation of
the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This may lead to a warrant
for your arrest, the making of a removal order against you, and
prohibitions barring your admission to Canada in the future."

When contacted, one S Charles of the Canada Border Services Agency,
the officer whose signature was on the letter, said he could not speak
to the incident and referred this reporter to the Media Relations Department.

Ana Pape, of the Media Relations Department, took the reference number
on the letter and informed the Sunday Observer that the matter would
be investigated and a response provided.

However, nearly two weeks later, Pape had not responded to the Sunday
Observer's query.

Meanwhile, Cole said she is still baffled by the strongly-worded
communication, and insisted that she followed the immigration
officers' directives to tell the immigration department at the airport
of her departure.

Cole added that she has since submitted a copy of her passport,
itinerary and electronic ticket stubs as well as a letter describing
her experience to the Canadian High Commission in Kingston and
Jamaica's foreign affairs ministry, but has not yet received any response.

Cole said the experience has turned her off from travelling anywhere
outside of Jamaica.

"I felt like an animal the way I was treated, and so I am never going
back there, and I don't think I even want to ever go to the US, or
leave Jamaica again, because I don't need this," she declared.
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