Montreal

Canadian woman turned away from U.S. border after questions about religion, Trump

'We found videos on your phone that are against us,' Fadwa Alaoui says she was told by a border agent

Fadwa Alaoui

Fadwa Alaoui of Quebec says her treatment by U.S. border agents left her 'humiliated.' (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

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A woman from the Montreal suburb of Brossard says she was denied entry into the U.S. Saturday after being fingerprinted, photographed and questioned in detail about her religion and her views on U.S. President Donald Trump.

Fadwa Alaoui, a Moroccan-born Canadian citizen who is Muslim and wears a hijab, says she has used her Canadian passport to enter the United States many times without incident to visit her parents and brother, who live there.

On the weekend she was travelling with two of her children and an adult cousin, who all have Canadian passports. She said they planned to spend the day shopping in Burlington, Vt., but after four hours at the border they were turned back.

She said most of the questions that she faced at the Philipsburg border crossing focused on religion.

"I felt humiliated, treated as if I was less than nothing. It's as if I wasn't Canadian," Alaoui told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.

Morocco is not among the seven predominantly Muslim countries targeted by a U.S. travel ban introduced by Trump that is now being disputed in the courts. 

Questions about religion

Youssef Alaoui

Fadwa Alaoui was travelling with her son Youssef, 5, who recently finished chemo treatments. Alaoui said she was going shopping in Vermont to buy the boy a toy. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

Alaoui said U.S. border agents asked to see her and her cousin's cellphones. They asked for the passwords and then examined the phones for about an hour. Alaoui and her cousin were then questioned separately for about 45 minutes each.

"He said, 'Do you practise? Which mosque do you go to? What is the name of the imam? How often do you go to the mosque? What kind of discussions do you hear in the mosque? Does the imam talk to you directly?'" Alaoui said.

She said she was also asked about the deadly shooting at a mosque in Quebec City and if she knew any of the victims, and what she thought of Donald Trump's policies.

Agents looked at cellphone videos

Border agents also asked her about Arabic videos on her phone. She said they were videos of daily prayers.

Alaoui said after the questioning, she waited about another hour. The border agents returned and told her she was being denied entry.

"They said, 'You're not allowed to go to the United States because we found videos on your phone that are against us,"  Alaoui said.

Fadwa Alaoui explains what happened to her at U.S. border 0:51

'No discrimination based on religion'

In an email to CBC, David Long, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said privacy laws prohibit discussion of individual travellers.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection's top priority is the prevention of the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the United States, while facilitating legitimate trade and travel," Long's email read.

"CBP does not discriminate on the entry of foreign nationals to the United States based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation," he continued.

He said travellers who feel they've wrongly been denied entry into the U.S. can file a written complaint on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

According to the agency, an average of 1.2 million people a day try to enter the U.S. at all crossings. Of those, an average of between 300 and 500 are denied entry for various reasons.

fadwa Alaoui

Fadwa Alaoui, her children and cousin were all carrying Canadian passports. (Salimah Shivji / CBC)

Worried about returning to U.S.

Alaoui now wonders about returning to the U.S. to visit her parents in Chicago. She was planning to do that for spring break, but now she's not sure.

"Usually we drive about eight hours to cross at the Sarnia border. We don't want that to happen to us again after eight hours of driving," she said.

Alaoui said she hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will raise the issue when he eventually meets with Trump.

Trudeau was asked in Question Period on Wednesday about Alaoui's treatment and said the federal government is working with American officials to clarify the rights of Canadians at the border.

"It's an issue everyone's concerned about here and we're working on it," he said.

Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale said his department was looking into the Alaoui situation, which he described as "troubling." 

"To the best of my knowledge, this was one incident, but it's one incident too many. And I will want to examine it, but I need to get the detail of exactly who and when it happened so that I can follow it up," he said.

Goodale said he expected anyone travelling on a Canadian passport to be treated with "deference and respect" at border crossings.

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