US border guards pepper-spray Canadian visitor

March 6th, 2009 - 10:42 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, March 6 (IANS) Though rude treatment of visitors at American airports and borders has become the norm since 9/11, it crossed all limits Monday when US border guards pepper-sprayed a Canadian man.
Fifty-four-year-old Desiderio Fortunato from Coquitlam near Vancouver said Thursday he was subjected to pepper spray when he asked a US border guard to be polite when he (guard) asked him rudely to turn off his engine.

The Canadian, who also owns a house in Washington state in the US and was returning to Canada, said, “I just said please” to the US border guard while turning off his engine.

“He (the guard) said ‘get out of the car or I spray you’ and … I thought he was just trying to scare me off or something and I was pepper sprayed from a foot or two away,” Fortunato was quoted as saying by the Canadian Press.

Suddenly, he said, five or six border guards jumped on him, placed him in handcuffs and questioned him for three hours Monday afternoon.

“I felt like I was attacked by a bunch of wolves. They jumped on me, they threw me to the ground and they kneeled on me,” he said. Fortunato, who was born in Portugal and became a Canadian citizen 30 years ago, said the first thing US border guards wanted to know was where he was born.

He said their demeanour changed when he told them he was of Portuguese origin, the Canadian Press said.

“Their shields dropped slightly down. It was like you know: okay he is a westerner, okay he is not a Muslim, okay he is a Christian, he is one of us. That is what I read [from them].”

Referring to the motto of US Customs and Border Protection is to serve “the American public with vigilance, integrity and professionalism,” he said, “What is that, that’s what they pledge. I am just asking for a please, and I get pepper spray in the face, and of course, their argument is you must comply with anything an officer says.”

Fortunato said he crosses the border two or three times a week to visit his second home in Blaine in Washington state. But it is the first time that he was subjected to this kind of treatment.

The incident drew strong reactions from Canadians, with some calling the US a “fascist police state.”

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