Crossing the line

Activists say they were targeted at U.S.-Canadian border



Clifford Bradley and Rita Jankowski-Bradley are a fairly mainstream-looking Missoula couple in their early 50s. At first glance, you might suspect them of teaching fourth grade or running a bakery, but certainly not plotting terrorist bombings. Yet this graying Missoula couple, organizers of June’s Global Justice Action Summit (Global JAS) in Missoula, are convinced that they were placed on a clandestine government list that red-flagged them as agitators.

About a month ago, following Global JAS, Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley made their way from Missoula to Calgary with friend and African debt relief activist Molly Dhlamini. They planned on a quick trip to drop off Dhlamini, who had been invited to speak by the Council of Canadians, at an educational forum in Calgary running concurrently with the G8 Summit, and then return home. But when they reached the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Piegan, things didn’t go smoothly.

The couple offered the following account of their ordeal to the Independent, Sen. Max Baucus (D–Mont.), Sen. Conrad Burns (R–Mont.), Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R–Mont.) and the Montana Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

After the three travelers provided their passports, several U.S. Customs officers, military personnel and local sheriff’s deputies began searching the Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley car. During the search, an agent arrived with a piece of paper the couple believes red-flagged them for a comprehensive search.

“He just ran his finger down a list,” says Bradley. “And that was it.” Their car was moved into a garage and Dhlamini was taken into a separate room and interrogated.

“We asked if we could stay in the garage while the car was searched,” says Bradley. “We were told we couldn’t.”

The couple watched from an office window as the number of agents searching their car swelled to 11, including representatives from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Border Patrol. Soon, a dog was brought in to search the car. When the dog finished its sweep, an agent told Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley that the animal had alerted the agents to something in the car. The agent asked if they were transporting explosives or firearms. They told him they weren’t.

“We thought later,” says Bradley. “that perhaps the dog had responded to the sidearms carried by the 11 people climbing through our car.” Half an hour later, after one of Dhlamini’s immigration forms was found, she was released. A half-hour after that, the three returned to their car to find their belongings and clothing scattered throughout the car and their papers torn and crumpled.

“When we asked why we were searched and what the list was that identified us for a search,” says Bradley. “We were told this was routine.”

The three were eventually permitted to cross the border, but upon Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley’s return to the United States, this time at Sweetgrass, they ran into similar trouble.

“We provided our passports and answered questions,” says Bradley. “An agent inside the booth entered something in a computer and a tone went off.” Again their car was searched out of their presence. Eventually, they were cleared and allowed to cross. Like the first time, they were told this was routine.

Others who crossed the border around the same time as the G8 Summit have also alleged that a list of American agitators had been compiled. Matt Hisel and Kira Pascoe, two Missoulians who crossed the border a day after Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley, were also searched and, they believe, placed under surveillance.

“The bus we were in was followed to the border from our campground by seven vehicles,” says Hisel. “There were state police, tribal police, border police and FBI.”

David Rovics, a member of Hisel’s caravan from Boston, says he knows such a list exists because a Canadian customs agent showed it to him. After crossing the U.S. border, Rovics was stopped at the Canadian border and presented with a piece of paper that identified him as “a G8 protester.” The Canadians searched his car and later turned him away after finding literature that mentioned “direct action.”

According to the Canadian publication, The Report, Rovics was one of at least 80 protesters turned away at the Canadian border.

Thus far, only Sen. Burns’ office has investigated the Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley’s incident. After speaking with Harry Thomas, director of the INS office in Montana, a spokesperson for Burns told the Independent that the agency is apologetic and understands that searches can be intrusive, but emphasizes that in the post-9/11 world such searches are a necessity.

“It was this kind of search that caught a bomber on his way to L.A.,” says the Burns’ spokesperson.

The U.S. Customs Service was also apologetic but stressed that the search was both routine and essential.

“They really weren’t singled out,” says U.S. Customs Public Affairs Officer Cherise Miles. “Customs didn’t have a list. But there were more outbound searches around the time of the G8.”

Because of the number of heads of state attending the G8, security at the borders was bolstered. This meant multiple agencies worked cooperatively to ensure a safe and peaceful summit, says Miles.

While their U.S. citizenship ensures Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley have the right to complain that their search was excessive and invasive, there may be no legal recourse to pursue. The Montana ACLU has expressed its sympathy but says it cannot offer legal help because of its already large caseload and the lack of legal leads their case offers.

“At ports there are different standards for inspections,” says Kent Brimhall, port director of U.S. Customs at Sweetgrass. “For example, we’re not required to put back everything in its exact place.”

Many American citizens are unaware that ports of entry do not afford them the same rights they have inside the United States. For example, individuals must be prepared to be searched, they don’t have the right to observe searches, and inspectors need only “reasonable suspicion,” not “probable cause” to conduct a search, according to Brimhall.

And while the agency does use “technology” as an aid, Brimhall would not comment on how travelers’ names are checked, or in what databases.

Whether a list was compiled by the federal government or by Montana law enforcement, Bradley and Jankowski-Bradley say they haven’t finished their quest to discover how or why they were targeted. If the political angle doesn’t provide them with the answers they want, they say they’ll look elsewhere, starting with Missoula’s local law enforcement.

“We feel our rights have been violated,” says Bradley. “If they have not been violated, then our rights have been so thoroughly eroded that we no longer live in a democracy that we say we are protecting.”

Add a comment