Border stories: A commuter's journey

Laurie Freeman-Gibb commuted over the border from Windsor to Detroit for 20 years. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly a 20-minute commute turned into a three hour ordeal. Freeman-Gibb found the experience so traumatizing she left her job in Detroit. As she puts it, "the towers came down and the curtain closed on the border that day."

For the first 14 years that Laurie Freeman-Gibb spent crossing the border between Windsor and Detroit for work, she found the daily commute both "fun" and "easy."

"I knew most of the customs officers on a first-name basis. They got to know who I was and they would ask how my job was going, how were my kids? It kind of reminded me of a toll booth," the 48-year-old nurse practitioner remembers.

Apart from work, her family travelled over the border several times a week for leisure.

"I had a lot of friends and colleagues there. I went shopping. My husband and I would go for dinner or see a hockey game," she shares.   Detroit was as much a part of her existence as her own home in Windsor.   And then came 9/11.

"I went downstairs at work and we brought up a television and we watched the second plane take out the second tower. It was like watching a movie, it was awful."

Though shocked, Freeman-Gibb had no idea how much her life would change after the deadly attacks of 9/11.

"We went about our work day, in shock, but we finished our work day. We heard the borders were eventually reopened for Canadians to go home and going home it was a typical crossing. The next morning I got up figuring, this was horrible but it had nothing to do with us in Windsor."  

Suddenly, a 20-minute drive turned into three or four hours.  

Friendly border guards became ruthless inquisitors, Freeman-Gibb claims. 

"They knew me by my first name and suddenly they were treating me like a terrorist," she winces.  

Freeman-Gibb found the daily duress of the border so traumatic, she left her job in Detroit for a position that kept her in Windsor.

"They opened up every door of my car and searched it completely. They opened up my purse, my lunch bag, everything I had in there. I was really taken aback how we were treated, especially having done this for so many years. You really, really, were made to feel unwelcome. It's never gone back to normal. My normal."  

The stress she encountered in the weeks and months following Sept. 11, 2001, now keeps her as far away from the border as possible.

"We stopped going over for pleasure. If we absolutely have to go, we make a concerted plan and only go for a certain amount of hours. To this day it's like a military state. "