Toronto

U.S. county tries to reassure Canadian visitors after story of Ontario woman's arrest makes headlines

Response follows CBC Toronto story of Emily Nield, arrested in Georgia for driving with an Ontario licence

CBC News

May 08, 2018

'Those handcuffs, I still remember them being on me because they were tight,' says Emily Nield, 27. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

A county in Georgia is taking steps to reassure Canadians they'll be treated with respect when they visit, after an Ontario woman who was pulled over for speeding was handcuffed and put behind bars.

On Monday, CBC Toronto broke the story of Emily Nield, who was stopped in Cook County. When Nield showed her driver's licence to the police officer, she was arrested for driving with an Ontario licence.

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Shortly after filming herself in the back of a police cruiser in handcuffs, Nield was taken to a police station and charged with both driving without a licence and for doing 87 m.p.h. in a 70 m.p.h. zone. She was fingerprinted and a mugshot was taken.

Her story made international headlines.

The county's office contends Interstate 75 brings nearly a million travellers through the area each month and that law enforcement officers regularly come across cases of identity theft. While non-U.S. citizens with a valid foreign driver's licence are allowed to drive in Georgia, law enforcement officers can consult a person's passport or visa to verify its validity. 

Nield didn't have original documents with her and had only copies on her phone. And according to Nield, the officer didn't recognize the validity of her licence. "She kept saying, 'No, Canadian licences are not accepted,'" said Nield. "I was flabbergasted."

'Georgia is open for business'

Officials in Cook County have issued a news release saying they'd met with Canadian Consul General Nadia Theodore "to discuss how the parties could move forward."

The meeting, which focused on best practices for law enforcement officers and Canadian citizens visiting Georgia, came at the behest of Theodore, the release said. 

Nield says a Georgia police officer arrested her for driving with an Ontario licence in the U.S. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

"As a result of the meeting, Cook County officials assured Canadian travellers that Georgia is open for business, their citizens would be treated with respect, due process would be afforded to its citizens, and any non-citizen who is arrested would be able to contact their regional consulate," it said.

Nield said she was told by police that she would remain in jail until her court appearance on June 12, unless she paid an $880 US bond in cash, which she didn't have.

That's something the Cook County Sheriff's Office denied.

"That is not correct," it said in a statement late Monday. "Georgia law states that any individual who is arrested on a non-warrant is entitled to a first appearance hearing to be advised of their rights and bond within 48 hours of arrest."

'Citizens will be treated with respect and dignity'

Three days after her arrest, the county solicitor agreed that her charges should be dismissed. With Nield in the U.S. studying and her having no prior run-ins with the law, the court is taking steps to erase her arrest record. 

"The men and women of my office are dedicated public servants," Sheriff Douglas Hanks said in Tuesday's statement.

"As I explained to Consul General Theodore, her citizens will be treated with respect and dignity and will be treated no different than that of Americans or any other person whom we come into contact with."

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