British Columbia

Iranian-Canadians say they were detained, interrogated at U.S. border crossing

Some people trying to cross the border from British Columbia into the U.S. Saturday — many with American or Canadian citizenship, and of Iranian descent — say they were detained and interrogated for hours by U.S. border patrol agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies reports of people being held for questioning

Approximately 80 per cent of refugee claimants to B.C. cross the Canada-U.S. border through Peace Arch Park, in Surrey. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Some people trying to cross the border from British Columbia into the U.S. Saturday — many with American or Canadian citizenship, and of Iranian descent — say they were detained and interrogated for hours by U.S. border patrol agents.

Iranian-Canadian Sam Sadr of North Vancouver, B.C. and his family of four adults were headed to the Peace Arch border crossing Saturday morning for a weekend trip to Seattle.

When they arrived at the border he said they were told to go inside by U.S. border patrol agents. Their passports were confiscated and they were questioned for hours about birthplaces, family members, schooling, work histories — the same questions being asked over and over again, according to Sadr.

Finally, they were released to go back into Canada at 7:30 p.m. PT — 8.5 hours after they had arrived.

"That's discrimination," said Sadr. "I am a Canadian citizen."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are denying reports of people being held for questioning.

"Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false," said a CBP spokesperson. 

The CBP said wait times were longer than usual because of increased volume and reduced staff during the holiday season.

First trip to U.S. 

Sadr was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran, and received his Canadian citizenship two years ago. He hadn't visited the U.S. before.

He said he saw what he believes were more than 100 people of Iranian descent being held for questioning Saturday, some even holding Nexus cards.

Washington State Immigration lawyer Len Saunders believes the heightened scrutiny and extreme vetting of people with Iranian descent is because of U.S. President Donald Trump's order to have Qassem Soleimani, the notorious Iranian general killed.

Early Friday morning, a U.S. airstrike killed Soleimani, 62, and others as they travelled from Baghdad's international airport. The Pentagon said Trump ordered the U.S. military to take "decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad."

"It's shocking that these people are being singled out for an action on the other side of the world," said Saunders.

The Office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the Canada Border Services Agency has no involvement in the matter.

"All Canadian citizens, regardless of their background, are equal before and under the law, and no one will ever be arbitrarily detained at the Canadian border nor refused entry purely because of their ethnicity or religion," said the statement.

'Extremely troubling' says CAIR

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said more than  sixty Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained at length and questioned at the Peace Arch border crossing as they attempted to re-enter following an Iranian pop music concert in Vancouver Saturday night.

"They're saying it was very terrifying. They had no idea what was happening," said Hoda Katebi, a writer and community organizer, in an interview.

In a statement, Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR Washington called the reports of people being detained are a clear violation of U.S. law.

"These reports are extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens," said Fouladi.

Sadr is angry and upset at the treatment he and his family endured for more than eight hours at the Peace Arch border, and says this will be the first and last time he tries to enter the U.S.

"[I] came here as a tourist, not a terrorist."

With files from Tanya Fletcher & Katie Nicholson

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